It’s been a busy couple of weeks (as evidenced by the crickets chirping on the blog / FB / twitter). I’ve been on the prowl for our next NYC apartment, which was such an unexpectedly complex process that it will merit a blog post on its own at some point. I was also briefly in Dallas to deal with our belongings (aka The Storage Unit of Doom) and house there–egads–and I’ve still got work on that end to accomplish. BUT. Here I am, back to academia and writing!
I’ve been struggling for months now with how to turn my dissertation into articles. Part of the problem stems from the way that social sciences dissertations are divided by functional, rather than topical, chapters. My chapters are titled exactly the same as most dissertations in my field (and the wider social sciences): 1) Introduction, 2) Literature Review, 3) Methodology, 4) Results (the data), and 5) Discussion (or conclusions, implications). By contrast, my master’s thesis in art history was great fodder for insta-articles (ah, the humanities!) because the chapters were topical: 1) introduction, 2) history, 3) iconography, 4) locations/types of images, 5) image function in the Catholic Mass.
My dissertation was a big project, something that needs to be broken down into digest-able chunks to work as articles. However, since I didn’t have to divide up the project initially, conceptualizing this after the fact is difficult. The distilled version of my dissertation study is this: I studied the education and other preparatory methods experienced by academic library administrators, and looked at how valuable/relevant they perceived each method to be, related to their academic leadership as administrators. My initial thought was to write one literature review article and two data-driven empirical articles: one on educational background (degrees earned), and another on the five other preparatory methods. But as I delved into the data, I had trouble separating the educational results from the other methods and began to see that the mentoring preparation might merit an article of its own.
I’m going back to the beginning to re-evaluate my plans. For the education-focused article, I’m going to limit my focus based on results with the greatest potential interest for my audience and impact on the disciplines (of library science and higher education). I may decide the rest of the educational data merits a follow-up article, particularly since I think there would be value in my performing some additional statistical analysis on my existing data. But if I wait to write an article after I perform those analyses, I’ll be putting off publication by months and end up with far too much information for a single article.
This blog post is sponsored by: Tiny Academic Batman!
I’m waiting to conceptualize the second article until I have a firm outline and draft for this first article. I’ve learned over and over that if I try too much at once, I can get overwhelmed and become completely un-scholarly-productive (a.k.a. “ALL THE THINGS“). Thus, I’m limiting my focus. I’m also dividing my writing time into handy 2-hour chunks, divided by scheduled time-slots for other tasks (including my academic reading–it’s so much easier to keep up with it if I schedule in a few hours a week). I’m planning on starting the literature review / meta-analysis article next, and may actually outline that while I’m working on the first article (after all, there will be some overlap).
I’m finding the most helpful tip to be starting with the abstract. I usually start with the general empirical article outline, which roughly follows the dissertation itself: introduction, lit review, methodology, results/findings, discussion/implications/future research ideas, and conclusion. However, starting with that outline has been frustrating for me this time around–for one, because those headings are so generic. By starting with the abstract, I’m creating a one-sentence summation of the specifics for each section (about five sentences total), which is a far better and more specific guide of what I plan to write.
The other key to my writing productivity is the concept of “draft vomit.” That is, I turn off my inner editorial voice that wants to edit sentences as I type, and simply try to write down ideas as quickly as they come. This is most easily done in short sprints, and it takes practice to loose your inhibitions and simply write. It’s tough enough to do that sort of thing in fiction, but in research, when we have an obligation to cite sources and explain research methods, it can feel flat-out wrong to write so freely. I must continually remind myself that producing content is the key, and that I’ll edit for sources and grammar and rational reasoning later.
Well. It’s a work in progress!
Finally, there’s my own past series on writing journal articles (from scratch, not from dissertations–but still).