Cynthia Prescott, Department of History, University of North Dakota
As part of the recent UND Scholarly Forum in March 2010, Sagini Keengwe (Teaching & Learning), Travis Heggie (Recreation & Tourism Studies) and I (History) provided advice on writing for publication in the social sciences. I have combined our comments and discussion into the following list of tips for graduate students and junior faculty, and compiled a list of recommended readings.
Take a writing class. Scholarly writing is different from other academic writings. T& L 543 (Scholarly Writing) is one of the writing classes offered at UND – it demystifies the process of writing for publications. Or read on your own – see the list of recommended readings below.
Read journal articles. You can’t write unless you read what others have written in your field. This will help you to develop your writing ideas. Get a feel for what types of research and writing styles each journal publishes.
Start small. You have to go beyond harboring good intentions of writing to start writing even few paragraphs a week. They quickly add up to a page! Additionally, if you want to start small, explore regional journals before going to national premier journals.
Find your writing zone. Do you write best in your office, at home, at the library, or in a busy coffee shop? Do you require silence, or does background music help you concentrate? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Find a routine that works for you, and stick to it.
Collaborate with other authors. Collaboration offers you the opportunity to learn from familiar yet accomplished researchers and writers who model good writing habits.
Stay positive about the writing process. We know not everyone can write. However, any one can attempt the writing venture. Those who write often and much are usually positive and dedicated to being successful as writers.
Set writing goals. Like other important things in life, setting definite writing goals and objectives could help you to find success in scholarly writing. Make a publishing plan for the next 1, 2, 5, and even 10 years.
Be consistent and habitual. Be consistent as you take small steps at a time and learn to develop a good habit for scholarly writing!
Form a writing community. Meet weekly or monthly to critique one another’s writing, hold one another accountable, provide moral support, and celebrate goals achieved.
Know your audience. A thesis or dissertation is written for an audience of four or five committee members who expect you to demonstrate your mastery of specific bodies of literature and research methods. In contrast, most journal or book readers only want to learn about your unique findings or contributions to the existing literature. Revise your writing to meet the expectations of your intended audience and publication.
Package your research effectively. Not all research results should be published. Be realistic in assessing what you have written. Can your thesis/dissertation/conference paper be turned into journal articles or a book with only minor revisions? Or should you harvest only the best elements? Journal articles might highlight the best chapter (or part of a chapter) of your thesis, summarize the heart of your argument, or use your thesis/dissertation work as a jumping off point for new research.
Write review articles. Writing a review of existing literature can be a relatively easy way to get a publication as a graduate student. This will help you to identify where you might contribute new research, and will give you a head start on writing the literature review for your thesis/dissertation.
Count the rewards. In most professional and/or academic fields, scholarly writing is viewed in a positive light. Scholarly writing is generally recognized and often rewarded.
Beth Luey, Handbook for Academic Authors, 5th ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
Paul J. Silvia, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (American Psychological Association, 2007)
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (American Psychological Association, 2009)
H. S. Becker, Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article, 2nd. ed. (The University of Chicago Press, 2007)
A. S. Huff, Writing for Scholarly Publication. (SAGE Publications, 1999)
K. T. Henson, Writing for Publication: Road to Academic Advancement. (Allyn & Bacon, 2005)
F. Pyrczak & R. R. Bruce, Writing Empirical Research Reports: A Basic Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 6th ed. (Pyrczak Publishing, 2007)