Tag Archives: academic writing

Short or Long Form Writing?

There is a lot of enthusiasm today about the potential of short form communication – SocialMediatweets, blogs, etc. – to facilitate inquiry and professional development. At the same time, books and long articles continue to be published in huge numbers. Which medium is likely to have greater impact? An obvious response is that we should use both; but when forced to choose (either as reader or writer), which should we opt for? In my (Clive’s) view it depends on the context and how we go about it.

Teaching is such a complex process that individual tweets or blogs about it may be of little use. However, if they are part of an ongoing conversation (literal or metaphoric) they can be very valuable. It is the same with articles and books: they must respond to the concerns and thinking in the field if they are to be helpful.

Wittgenstein once said (according to Iris Murdoch – NYT, January 24, 2016): “One conversation with a philosopher is as pointless as one piano lesson.” So much for short form communication! But it depends on the context. For a serious pianist, a single interaction with another pianist can have a big impact. And equally, if an academic is willing to dialogue rather than just lecture endlessly about their theory, one conversation can be very helpful.

Whether short or long, communication should as far as possible “keep the conversation going” (to use Rorty’s phrase) so people learn from each other and there is a cumulative effect. We cannot always have an actual conversation, but if we listen to what others are asking and thinking we can make a contribution.





Your Research Summed Up with EMOJIS!?

Academic writing is often criticized for being unnecessarily complex and as a result inaccessible to most people. In a response to simplify academic writing, there has been a hilarious online movement to tweet your research using only emojis. I decided to try it out. Surprisingly, this task was more difficult than I expected. Below is my final result (I had to use text + emojis). Interestingly, my husband commented the emoji statement helped clarify what the heart of my research is really about. Go figure!!

Our Team Research
Our Team Research

To Read more about this movement, click here:



Grad school is like…

I (Clare) was at an orientation for new graduate students. And some of these metaphors about grad school were shared. Thought I would share them with you. It is worth reading the whole post because some are quite hilarious. Will only take a moment.

What's in a Brain

Now that I’ve survived my first full week of classes in grad school, I am clearly a grad school expert.


But I have been spending quite a lot of mental energy trying to figure it out – noticing how it’s similar to, and especially different from, undergrad; working to figure out what’s expected of me, by others and myself; and trying to articulate what exactly my goal(s) is/are.

This look is pretty consistently on my face. Image: http://janiebryant.com/blog/265/ This look is pretty consistently on my face.
Image: http://janiebryant.com/blog/265/

I’ve also been a bit preoccupied with metaphors, as I’m working on a metaphor-based research proposal for a fellowship application. I guess the two have become intertwined in my subconscious, because my first (coherent) thought upon waking up this morning was, “grad school isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon!” Not long after I began giving myself credit for this clever analogy, I was racking my brain for more. As a firm…

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Writing

Celebrated writer and editor of blog The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, provides advice to writers. Coates writes about social, cultural, and political issues for The Atlantic, The New York Times, and has published several books. In this short yet powerful video, Coates describes writing as an “act of courage.” He explains: “I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that’s the reason why more people don’t write.” Coates reminds new writers that ultimately writing is about perseverance.

Source: www.theatlantic.com
Source: http://www.theatlantic.com

Watch the video here:


Feedback: To Help the Author or Show Off What the Reviewer Knows?

checkmark imagesAll of us in academia are subject to the peer-review process. I (Clare) was revising a book chapter this past weekend and although rewriting is not pleasant, this time it was not a hard slog. The two reviewers provided sensible advice – give an example to clarify this point; please round out the point in this paragraph; connect the two tables … Their feedback was to improve the piece. This has been a good experience because the chapter is definitely clearer and more compelling. But this experience is not typical of the “peer review” feedback process. Far too many times I have had feedback that left me shaking my head. We submitted a paper to a journal and the feedback was a 3 page rant on the limits of a grounded theory method (which was appropriate for a study of literacy teacher educators’ experiences). What was the point of the feedback from someone who was clearly a quantitative researcher? Another time the feedback on a grant proposal which was studying teachers’ use of a digital technology – how their pedagogy and identity changed (or did not change) — was so off-base. The reviewer wanted us to include data on the children’s (student’s) use of technology in their personal lives. That is a different study. So why do reviewers provide comments that are not relevant or connected to the actual piece in hand? Did they not actually read it? Are they trying to show off what they know? (The latter is a bit ironic since the review is anonymous!)

I do not have answers to these questions. I would like to thank the reviewers who take the time (and park their ego at the door) to provide useful advice.

Words to Avoid

As a doctoral student, I aim to write very clearly. This is not always easy and often takes several revisions. However, there are some words we have just become so used to saying/writing that we hardly notice they aren’t saying much at all.

In the listicle (listing article) “15 Words You Should Eliminate From Your Vocabulary to Sound Smarter”Jennie Haskamp identifies vague and often meaningless words most of us are guilty of using. Below are a few of the words, along with explanations taken directly from the article, I am most guilty of using (as demonstrated above).  I’m trying my best to eliminate them from my vocabulary:

  1. That

It’s superfluous most of the time. Open any document you’ve got drafted on your desktop, and find a sentence with “that” in it. Read it out loud. Now read it again without “that.” If the sentence works without it, delete it. Also? Don’t use “that” when you refer to people. “I have several friends that live in the neighborhood.” No. No, you don’t. You have friends who. Not friends that. 

  1. Very

Accurate adjectives don’t need qualifiers. If you need to qualify it? Replace it. “Very” is intended to magnify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. What it does is makes your statement less specific. If you’re very happy? Be ecstatic. If you’re very sad, perhaps you’re melancholy or depressed. Woebegone, even. Very sad is a lazy way of making your point. Another pitfall of using very as a modifier? It’s subjective. Very cold and very tall mean different things to different people. Be specific. She’s 6’3″ and it’s 13 degrees below freezing? These make your story better while also ensuring the reader understands the point you’re making.

  1. Amazing

The word means “causing great surprise or sudden wonder.” It’s synonymous with wonderful, incredible, startling, marvelous, astonishing, astounding, remarkable, miraculous, surprising, mind-blowing, and staggering. You get the point, right? It’s everywhere. It’s in corporate slogans. It dominated the Academy Awards acceptance speeches. It’s all over social media. It’s discussed in pre-game shows and post-game shows.

Newsflash: If everything is amazing, nothing is.

  1. Just

It’s a filler word and it makes your sentence weaker, not stronger. Unless you’re using it as a synonym for equitable, fair, even-handed, or impartial, don’t use it at all.

To read the entire list click here:


Writing is hard!

I (Clare) do a lot of writing. When my doctoral students comment about writing I always respond, “Writing is hard.” It takes time, is frustrating yet the finished product often makes me proud. Writing is  a thinking process. In the New York Times there was a great little article by Cheryl Strayed who brilliantly sums up the process. She notes:

I write to find out what I have to say. I edit to figure out how to say it right.

I love her insight so much I think I will put it on a post-it note by my computer. So when I am struggling with my writing I will be reminded why the process is often so challenging. Poochey And sometimes I rely on my little poochie for inspiration.

Critically Reading Selfies


The term ” Selfie” was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013. People all around the world have been turning their phone camera around to capture themselves in a moment. Many people believe that our selfies reveal a lot about us. It is for this reason Professor Marino from University of Southern California has created an assignment for his students to critically read their selfies. His assignment is titled Know Thy Selfie 🙂 Marino believes that selfies help us analyze our identities because “each selfie bears information that can be used  to read our identity  characteristics: our race-ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status.”

The Assignment:

Write a thesis-driven essay in answering the prompt:

How do your selfies produce or obscure a sense of your identity?

1. Take or choose 5 selfies of yourself. You may be alone or with another person, but try to make sure you are a central and large part of the photo. All of the selfies should be different.

2. Examine your selfies for your performance of
Socio-economic staus

3. Consider these identity characteristics independently and as they intersect.

Some questions for reflection as you prepare your response.

What in your selfies is accurate?
What is obscured or ambiguous?
Does the image portray one identity trait more than others?
Where do the images place you in the spectrum of possibilities for each characteristic trait — for example, more or less feminine or masculine?
How might different audiences perceive the images differently?
How is the viewer addressed in the image?
How do your selfies play off other well-known images? How do they play off each other?
What is the apparent context of this image? How does that affect how it might be read?

Read more about ‘Know Thy Selfie’ assignment here:

View at Medium.com

The Sitting Disease

As a doctoral student I find myself sitting for hours in front of the computer without stretching or sometimes even moving. I suppose I have always known that sitting for hours on end couldn’t be good for our health, but the scientific community is now claiming our sitting habits are leading to “the sitting disease.” Below is an info-graphic with some alarming facts and statistics on our sedentary lives.

We’ve become so sedentary that 30 minutes a day at the gym may not counteract the detrimental effects of 8, 9 or 10 hours of sitting.” ~ Genevieve Healy, PhD


As I sit here writing this blog post, I realize I haven’t had a stretch or a walk in a while. So, I’m going to take a short break, bundle up (it’s freezing here in Toronto!) and take a walk around the block. Learn more about how sitting is harming our health at: http://www.juststand.org

Publish or Perish: The Rise of Predatory journals

In the past year, on a regular basis, an email would pop up in my (Clare) inbox about a new journal and invite submissions. I would scan the email and wonder – is this legit or is it a boondoggle? I usually deleted the email because I was not sure if it was spam but I have often thought that I might be missing a great publishing opportunity. Am I being old-fashioned and not using social media? Mark Kingwell, Professor at the University of Toronto, wrote a GREAT column about “predatory journals” which answered my question. So new scholars, do not get fooled. Press the delete button! And all academics will find his stats about acceptance rates at top journals a bit disheartening. Here is an excerpt from his column and at this bottom of this blog is a link to the entire article.

Predatory journals take a bite out of scholarship by Mark Kingwell

The academic imperative “publish or perish” is so well known that people with no intention of entering scholarly life are familiar with it – no tenure for you, my friend, without at least a handful of citations. The journals should be reputable and selective, as all the best ones are, but in the crunch quantity might just trump quality. Alas, now comes this new storm on the horizon of university careerists: predatory journals.

Nobody inside academic life will consider it news that the number of journals, in almost every field, has risen in the post-print era. The good ones remain, and sometimes even retain a print version, but they are now flanked by opportunistic newcomers who prey on the desires of tenure-seeking scholars.

That, in itself, is no big deal. A new journal can publish work as accomplished as an established one, assuming the usual practices of double-blind peer review: The reviewers, assumed to be experts in the field, don’t know the identity of the author, and the author doesn’t know who the reviewers are. In my field, philosophy, acceptance rates at good journals run to about 5 per cent, or one in 20 of submitted pieces, and rare is the article that goes into print without extensive revisions suggested by the reviewers.

Predatory journals are a whole different beast. Instead of you seeking their grudging approval, they come after you. And then they demand money.