Monday, July 21, 2014

Random bullets of academic writing thoughts

  • I plan to leave out cookies and milk to catch the evil troll who rolls back the progress on my manuscript every night. I toil over it all day long, and leave it as, if not a shining thing, at least a respectable one with shining bits.  "It's 100% better," I say when leaving it for the evening. When I look at it the next morning, though, imperfections bounce out at me, and I realize that it is maybe 20% better, so clearly a troll did something terrible to it overnight. 
  • I read Rebecca Schuman's article on peer review over at Slate (who didn't?). She suggests that everyone who submits an article for review should be forced to read in order to get reviewed, sort of a "take a penny, leave a penny" approach.  Since this ought to happen through goodwill and scholarly collegiality, I'm a little worried about sullen teenager syndrome--you know, where you make a reward contingent on raking the lawn but you don't exactly get a stellar job if the teenager doesn't feel like doing it. I'd like to think that being professional shouldn't mean coercion.
  • Crowdsourcing reviews, although successful as an experiment in Kathleen Fitzpatrick's case, leaves open the possibility of "and thanks to the anonymous hordes who spent many many hours of their life reading and commenting on my prose and made my Fabulous Book so Fabulous." Part of being a reviewer is knowing that your thoughtful comments (not mean-girl screeds, as Schuman suggests) will improve the article, or at least ask the right questions. Will scholars really spend that time in reviewing, which is already a time-consuming task, if they're just part of an anonymous horde instead of one of a couple of experts sought out by the journal or press? It worked for Fitzpatrick, but her project had this as an integral and novel part of the book. Multiply this by hundreds of books and articles. Would you spend your research time this way? Jonathan has another objection: the non-expert factor.
  • Gregory Semenza has a nice writing inspiration post about the value of 10 minutes: if you have 10 minutes between classes, use them to write. I like the idea of using small increments of time well, especially the "touch your writing every day" part, but that might be just enough time to get absorbed in the material before having to go off to class.
  • Not about academic writing, but the death of James Garner seems to have moderated internet trollery in the comments on the obituaries of him. He seems to have been a decent human being and a good actor, and it was nice for once to scan comments and not see the awfulness of humanity that people usually display there. I shouldn't read comments, but sometimes I get sucked in by them. This comic at says it all, really:


Anonymous said...

Schuman's bitterness toward academia is only sometimes entertaining. Mostly I think it's meant to inspire guilt in people who have jobs. No thanks. I've had lots of constructive feedback in peer review. It's sucks that others haven't. I will say, though, that being asked to do peer review is no fun for people who are already so busy they can't breathe. In such cases, it's a wonder anyone ever takes the time to be kind.

undine said...

Anonymous--I found it more entertaining at first than I do now, since a lot of academic bloggers seem to be taking her vitriol against tenure-track people as a serious argument and running with it. It's meant to inspire guilt in people who have jobs, but honestly, why should they quit and starve to satisfy some random person's idea of equity? Makes no sense.

I am with you on peer review: it's important, necessary, and a huge time suck. To be accused of using it for vicious attacks is a stupid gambit, because even if someone wanted to be vicious, who has the TIME to play those games?