Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society, one more time: From research to conference paper, Part I

While I was playing catch-up a few months back, I wrote a concluding post for a research paper I wrote in my first year. I said then that I might turn it into an article, or do something else with it, and that I’d let you, my lovely readers, know if that happened. Well, I have. My paper was accepted to a conference being convened by the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW) based at St. Mary’s University (London). It’s being held at the University of Oxford in July. I’m very excited (full disclosure: while I am of course honored and happy to be presenting my paper, everyone tells me Oxford is just like Hogwarts, so at least half of my excitement might come from that). The original research paper was 37 pages, including footnotes. The average conference presentation is 15-20 minutes. This is about 10 pages of double-spaced text. So, I obviously have quite a bit of pruning to do. I also want to work on presenting, lecture style, which I’m not very good at and makes me very nervous to do (in the humanities, it’s fairly typical for people to read straight from their papers. Sometimes this is good, as it can make for a fairly clear and well-organized presentation, and sometimes this is bad, lending itself towards robotic and monotonous speech and complex sentences that are difficult for the listener to understand–and often difficult for the presenter to read).

Since conference presentation is one of the skills we need to develop as graduate students, and will use throughout our careers, I thought I’d provide a little insight into what my process is like for doing this. Over the next eight weeks, I’ll be doing a three-part series, Part I being this post, which covers the general plan, how I actually went about turning my research paper into a conference presentation (Part II), and how the conference itself and my presentation at it all went (Part III).

To the task at hand then: Part I – The General Plan

Conference date: 6 July 2017
Time until conference: about 7 weeks
Goals: 1) turn 37 pages to 10 (if I truly was going to Hogwarts, I could obviously do this by magic; since I’m not, it’ll have to be the magic of elbow grease and time — much less exciting, and a heck of a lot more work) 2) make an engaging presentation that is designed to be presented as a lecture rather than read

Week 1: Re-read the paper in its entirety twice, first without any comments, and second with the aim of coming up with specific revision tasks (for those following my series on turning a research paper into a journal article following Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, this is how she suggests getting started in that process as well).

Weeks 2-5: Revise paper based on revision tasks set in Week 1. I’ll be devoting about three days of my 15-minute daily writing in each of these weeks to revision. [Side note — I’m really liking these today, apparently — I was going to link “15-minute daily writing” to one of my #12weekstojournalarticle posts, but realized I never explained this. In order to get into a good writing habit, Belcher suggests spending a minimum of 15 minutes, and a maximum of 1 hour, writing per day. Since I’m really quite busy with research, I budget 15 minutes per day on average, but sometimes do a bit longer, depending on tasks and motivation] I will also undertake a review of the recent literature produced since writing my paper all the way back in 2014.

Week 6: Create PowerPoint based on revised paper. Begin practicing presentation (my aim is to devote about an hour, two or three times during this week, to practicing the presentation)

Week 7: Make all final edits and adjustments to PowerPoint and presentation.

Thursday, 6 July: Be amazing and give stellar presentation. Also, secretly pretend I’m at Hogwarts.

*   *   *

When you have a conference to present at, what’s your process?

Research Update 2: Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society, in Conclusion

I finished the paper for this project (see post title) just over two years ago. I never got a chance to update my blog to document the research and writing process as planned, but I thought I might hit the high points and conclude that project out here. I hope you’ll find some helpful insights and maybe more info about the project that intrigues you.

As I alluded to in my first and only post on the subject, the research itself was a bit of a weather adventure and I didn’t get to spend as much time in the archive at the Arab American National Museum as I would have liked (in fact, I spent most of my trip watching Netflix and the accumulation of snow). I was able to get enough to complete the project, but it is something I hope to return to in the future. Some highlights from the project (research, writing, and completion):

Title: “To Help All Syrian and Lebanese Wherever”: The Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society and Cultural Maintenance in the Diaspora

Main argument: Through their charitable and fundraising activities, the women of the Syrian Ladies’ Aid Society played a key role in the creation of a Syrian-American identity in the diaspora as they moved women’s role in cultural maintenance from the home to the political and transnational public sphere.

Research process: Pictures (approximately 300; researchers who spend weeks and months in the archive have thousands of pictures to sort through). Because my time in the archive was limited to begin with and ended up being even more limited as a result of weather, the two half days of research I was able to do was a flurry of picture-taking and quick note-making that I got to process when I got home. Here’s an image of my image database, using Excel (this was the first half day, when I thought I would have two and a half more days of research, so my notes are more complete):

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 6.22.27 PM

I duplicated this list to some extent in Evernote in order to draw out some of the main themes (see image below). It worked well for me, but I think it was a lot of duplicating work and I’m thinking of better ways to organize myself for my dissertation, where my pictures will number in the several thousand, I’m sure. One of my colleagues uses Google Drive and tags his pictures so that he can easily search for specific documents. I think you can also describe and annotate the image. I’ll check it out and write about it as my research progresses.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 6.26.46 PM

Writing: A LOT of drafts. Going through my folder, I have about 15 drafts saved, from initial thematic write-ups to several versions of the full document. Looking through them, I can see how my paper evolved in significant ways over the several weeks and many drafts. I also remember the many breakthroughs and insights I had while working on these drafts that, in many ways, reshaped my paper’s entire argument and, ultimately, made it a better paper. I seem to recall that, in order to complete this project, I devoted a particular amount of time per day to writing for it. I’m guessing about an hour. This is a process I hope to continue as I work on my dissertation and other future projects. I’ll keep you updated on how that works out, too.

Completion: Though this project had a formal completion date, I find that none of my projects are ever really done, and I look forward to returning to this one at some point, maybe revising it to write an article. If that happens, I’ll keep you in the loop about that, too!

What is your writing process like? What projects (academic, non-academic, personal) are you working on right now?




Week 5 Roll Call

This is a first for the term so far: I’m getting out my reading list before the week I tackle it, rather than after. I’m thinking some congratulations are due to myself. Two of my classes aren’t meeting this week (one reason I have time to post this now), and we’re reviewing preliminary prospectuses (i?) for another, so, all in all, a lighter reading week. With my abundant “free time”, I hope to do some significant catch-up and maybe even some getting ahead. So, without further ado, this week’s reading list:

Research Seminar in United States History

Tomlinson, Barbara, and George Lipsitz. “American Studies as Accompaniment.” American Quarterly 65, no. 1 (2013): 1-30.

Women in Arabic Literature

Ghada Samman, The Square Moon: Supernatural Tales (excerpts)

Sahar Tawfiq, Points of the Compass (excerpts)

Hanan al-Shaykh, Only in London (excerpts)


What readings do you have this week? What do you do with a week of “rest”?