Week 11: Finalizations

Well, we’ve made it to Week 11. Next week, I’ll be done with my article and sending it out to be judged. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Week 10 was all about micro-level edits. Belcher’s diagnostic test has you color-coding sentence-level problems in your paper, which makes for a pretty, multi-colored thing at the end of the day. Of course, the prettier it is, the more edits you have to make. My biggest problem was probably wordiness – using many (often little) words when I could have used one or two. Though it took some time to run the test, and to go through the paper to improve the individual sentences, it was a nice break from the big thinking and macro editing of the previous weeks.

In preparation for the final week, Week 11 is all about putting the finishing touches on the big parts of your paper – introduction, literature review, argument, evidence, conclusion. Belcher opens the chapter for this week with a section titled “The Perils of Perfection.” In pointing out that 1) there’s no such thing as perfection, really 2) imperfections are a good thing because it opens up critical dialogue with your reviewers 3) all stalling — often in the name of perfection — at this point is related to fear, Belcher encourages the reader to let go of the imperfections so that you can actually finish the thing. The rest of this very short chapter (literally 4 pages, including the time-tracking calendar) leads you through the process of finalizing the main parts of you paper by reviewing the aims and activities of the weeks dedicated to those respective parts.

  • Day 1: Read through page 268, start documenting your time, and review your paper for final general edits. Also, return to Week 3, review the instructions on improving your paper’s argument, and make corrections as necessary.
  • Day 2: Finalize the related literature review and bibliography. Return to Week 5.
  • Day 3: Finalize the introduction. Return to Week 8, focusing on the section about introductions.
  • Day 4: Finalize the evidence and structure. Return to Week 6 and Week 7, with the aim of improvement rather than overhaul. You may need to set aside several hours for this day’s task.
  • Day 5: Finalize the conclusion and, if you haven’t already, make sure you’ve chosen a journal. Return again to Week 8, this time focusing on that chapter’s section on conclusions.

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When you’re approaching the end of a task, do you find yourself stalling? If so, what do you do to get yourself back on track? If not, what’s your strategy to keep yourself motivated?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 12 (Send!)

Week 10: Editing at the Micro-level

Much of the previous weeks’ work focused on macro-level edits – introduction, conclusion, literature review, overall paper structure. At the beginning of the Week 10 chapter, Belcher notes that this is the most difficult type of editing and one that many writers avoid. I can sympathize with the feeling. As I noted in my Week 9 post, I had done so much reworking as a result of the Week 8 activities (and the ones before it as well), that I needed two weeks to get my paper in good enough shape that it could be sent for feedback. I stayed on schedule and my partner and I are now ready to proceed to Week 10, which takes us to the micro-level stage of editing – working on individual sentences, word choice, and grammar.

To facilitate this process, Belcher has created what she calls the “Belcher Diagnostic Test,” which she divides into three parts – words that might need to be cut, words that might need to be added, and words that might need to be changed. The aim of this test is to ensure that your paper is as clear and concise as possible. Other types of sentence-level problems – relating to punctuation and quotation marks, italics and bold face, acronyms, proper names, hyphens, spelling, and grammar – fall into a general category for editing not part of the Belcher Test, and, which Belcher notes, aren’t as important for the initial submission of your article.

Week 10 tasks:

  • Day 1: Read through page 253 and start documenting your time.
  • Day 2: Read pages 253 to 258 and run the Belcher Diagnostic Test (you can do this by hand, with a paper copy and colored pencils, or electronically, using the search and text coloring functions on your word processor).
  • Day 3: Read pages 258 to 262 and revise your article based on the Test from Day 2.
  • Day 4: Continue revisions.
  • Day 5: Read pages 262 to 265 and correct other types of problem sentences.

*   *   *

If you like editing, which do you prefer – the macro or the micro?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

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.

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

Week 9: Feedback

My article saw some major revisions in Week 8. The combined activities of editing my introduction, conclusion, and revisiting my literature review, title, and abstract helped me address some lingering questions about my paper’s organization. Originally, my introduction contained the briefest of literature reviews, which I expanded on in each section. I liked this structure and thought it served my purpose well. After revising my article, I found that this structure didn’t really work, not only because the literature and my interventions in it were more intertwined than I initially realized (and therefore meant it made for sense for it all to appear together), but also because I realized that the article I said I would write in the introduction wasn’t the article I ended up writing. It was there in parts, but it was obvious that my paper changed from proposal to final product, and I hadn’t adequately adjusted my literature review or section arguments to reflect that.

Given that, my paper is a bit in shambles, so my writing partner and I decided to take two weeks for Week 9, which will allow me to get my paper in order before getting down to the tasks, which are all about feedback. Like making sure your paper has a good structure, learning how to give, receive, and use feedback is one of the more important writing (and life, really) skills students and professionals need to develop. In the writing course I teach for, students are required to do a peer review of the rough drafts of their final papers. Since we operate in the quarter system, it’s difficult to give students the time and space to really learn how to give, receive and make use of the feedback, so I try to create activities throughout the quarter that encourages them to develop these skills. In particular, something I’ve run into with students is that they tend to 1) be able to identify surface problems fairly easily, but have more difficulty in identifying solutions, as well as deeper problems with the paper 2) get defensive about their work, and thus not listen to the feedback, and 3) get overwhelmed by the feedback and don’t know how to incorporate it into their final papers effectively. Of course, these problems aren’t limited to students (or, for that matter, people who write academically), so Belcher gives helpful advice on how to — and how not to — give, receive, and use it.

Week 9 tasks:

  • Day 1: Read through page 229 and start documenting your time.
  • Day 2: Read pages 229 to 230, share your article, and get feedback. In addition to sending your article to a professor in your field (ideally, if possible and applicable, the professor who recommended you submit this paper for article), she recommends doing a paper exchange with a colleague. Since I’m working on this paper with a partner, we’ll be making the exchange (Belcher does suggest doing this in person and making it social by getting together and reading together, but since both of us are abroad, and abroad in different countries, this isn’t a possibility). I may also send it to a friend who’s spent some time in academia but isn’t anymore and is always willing to provide me with good feedback.
  • Day 3: Read page 230 and make a list of tasks that remain to be done (Belcher here also recommends that if there are activities you haven’t done yet — e.g., written your inquiry letter to the editor from Week 4 — you can do those now).
  • Day 4: Read pages 230 to 231 and revise your article according to the received feedback.
  • Day 5: Continue revising your article as needed.

*   *   *

Do you have any tips or suggestions for giving and receiving feedback?

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 8 (Strengthening the intro and conclusion), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)

Week 8: Introductions and Conclusions

We’re now truly well and good past the half-way point of this twelve-week project. My paper is stronger and my ideas are clearer. I can’t yet say that it’s more polished, as I’ve done quite a bit of editing that needs to be fully sorted out still, but it’s well on it’s way to being something good.

I found last week‘s focus on evidence less helpful than others, which makes me think that 1) I had already made good use of evidence 2) I had incorporated it well with my argument, and/or 3) I have already done quite a bit of work on the paper through the other weeks’ activities that have improved my use and analysis of evidence. Since I had less work in the way of editing my evidence, I was able to play some catch-up, both with the previous weeks’ tasks, as well as with ongoing work for my dissertation.

This week’s tasks focus on opening and closing your article. In addition to the importance of your introduction and conclusion, Belcher also sets tasks aimed at revising your paper’s title – what she calls the “highway billboard ad” – and to look back at the abstract from Week 2 – what she calls the “full page magazine ad” – and the literature review from Week 5 and make any necessary changes there. So, to the tasks.

Week 8 tasks:

  • Day 1: Read through page 209, discuss and revise your title, and start documenting time.
  • Day 2: Read and do the activities on pages 209-216 and revise your introduction.
  • Day 3: Continue revising your introduction.
  • Day 4: Read pages 216 to 217, revisit your abstract and related literature review, and revise as necessary.
  • Day 5: Read pages 217 to 218 and revise your conclusion.

For all posts related to this project: Week 0 (Introduction), Week 1 (The writing plan), Week 2 (Getting started), Week 3 (Arguments), Week 4 (Choosing a journal), Week 5 (Literature review), Week 6 (Article structure), Week 7 (Evidence), Week 9 (Giving and receiving feedback), Week 10 (Editing), Week 11 (Finalizing the article), Week 12 (Send!)