Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Write to the Top!

How to go about prolific publishing in academia? If prolific writing can be learnt through profligate reading, here is a book on the topic: Write to the Top!: How to Become a Prolific Academic by W. Brad Johnson and Carol A. Mullen. As the book title suggests, it provides tips, advice and suggestions on how to become a prolific writer in academia; to write better non-fiction like research publications, books and book chapters on technical topics, grant proposals. Non-fiction is our intent in such writing, not necessarily their final content.

In all sincerity, there are sixty four elaborate tips segregated into relevant chapters, on how to become prolific. Beginning with how to establish a well honed writing habit, the book discusses pertinent issues like systematic writing from start to finish, when to collaborate and when to cut losses, tackling thoughts and emotions that block productivity and so on up to cautionary remarks on how not to lose perspective about our life in our pursuit for being prolific; You are the writer, writing is not you.

Although most of the academic publishing aspects mentioned in the book (how to fumble with, write, edit, edit and edit a research paper, how to submit, peer review polemics, dealing with rejection and success etc.) were apprenticed from an excellent adviser, I did enjoy reading this book. It provides a comprehensive, and at times inspiring, reminder about academic writing, its purpose and prominent-but-not-pervading place in a balanced academic life. The book is not set in a lighter tone, if you are looking for such sugar to make you read the medicine, but meets its goal, which is fine with me.

From one of the tip, here are some “scholarly irrationality” in academic writing

  • I must be successful in getting all of my work accepted for publication.
  • I ought to be an outstanding scholar, clearly better than other writers and professors in my department, university, or discipline.
  • I have to be greatly respected and loved by colleagues and editors.
  • If a reviewer or editor caustically denigrates my work or rejects me, he or she is obviously worthless and should be removed from the position of power.
  • If a reviewer or editor caustically denigrates my work or rejects me, it just proves that I am worthless and will always fail.
  • I should find writing easy and enjoyable like other scholars in my college and field.
  • If the audience at a professional conference should react negatively to my paper, it would be catastrophic — so awful I would probably vomit, faint, and be barred from ever attending the conference again.

According to the authors, if you are in academia and cannot relate to any of the above then you perhaps are either unproductive or too far on the wrong side of tenure.

In this context, the only 'inspiration' I could end this with is, there is no such thing as good luck in research publication. Painstaking work, coupled with careful risk taking, is required for success. Success; not necessarily -- as the above "scholarly irrationality" warn us -- significance.