Category Archives: writing

the most sociological thing we do is write

Whatever else about Steven Pinker, he can write.  Apparently he’s book about writing coming out, and he has posted an essay promoting it.  I thought a pair of quotes about good and bad writing were especially great.

On the good side: Continue reading

ask a scatterbrain: writing goals

A colleague of mine has set up a writing accountability group for the summer. They’ll check in once a week to see how the past week went and to map out the coming week. The group is not explicitly about reading one another’s work, but about ensuring that such work is accomplished. I thought some of her questions and concerns would be a worthwhile discussion to have with a wider audience and something that others who might plan such groups could benefit from.

  • Should these groups be about encouragement, measuring progress, evaluating goal achievement, all of the above, or something else?
  • If the group is about encouragement, how can one balance encouragement with enabling? What happens if someone always has an excuse for why they’re not writing? Should they continue to be part of the group?
  • If the group is about progress, what are some of the ways that we can measure progress on intellectual work when it’s not always clear-cut (e.g., an argument is developing, even if I haven’t written the introduction, the paper might not be getting longer, but it’s getting more polished) ?
  • If the group is about setting and evaluating goals, what type of goals are most effective? Is it better to say, “I’ll finish the data and methods section of Paper A this week,” or to say, “I will actively work on Paper A five days this week,” or something in-between?
  • Are there ways for fellow group members to motivate progress and goal achievement? Gold stars worked in grade school, but what works in grad school or on the tenure-track?
  • If someone is working on a number of projects, should they work on each of these a little each week, or focus on them one at a time? Is it possible for people to move projects forward in tandem, in ways that are mutually beneficial, or does multitasking come with too much of a cost?

Finally, are there other things that readers would suggest about such groups? Do you have good success stories, things to be wary of? Any feedback is welcome.

too much sociology…?

The magazine n+1 recently published an article about the rise and inefficacy of critical sociology. It’s a strange piece which, i think, accords sociology way too much influence. but it does have some salient points, particularly relating to the balance between structure and agency in sociological writing. The editors write:  “In spite of the strenuous attempts by sociologists to preserve some autonomy for the acting subject — Bourdieu’s “habitus,” Latour’s “actor-network” theory — popularization has inevitably resulted in more weight being thrown on the structuring side of things, the network over the actor.” I teach at Lehman College in the Bronx where the majority of students are working class. To put it simply, they are fed up with the overemphasis on structure, they find it deeply tiresome and profoundly disempowering. Continue reading

ask a scatterbrain: post-review changes not suggested by reviewers

On behalf of an anonymous reader:

After submitting an article to a journal, I have received a revise & resubmit decision along with two reviewer reports. The changes suggested by the reviewers and the editor seem reasonable and doable. However, it has occurred to me after I received the reports that the statistical model I used has limitations. These limitations had neither occurred to me before, nor were they noted by either of the reviewers or the editor. I think the sound thing to do would be to change the model and the data for this are available, but I am concerned about how this will look to the reviewers and the editor.

ask a scatterbrain: self-citation in works in progress

Is there a standard way to indicate that an author has cut and paste a chunk of text from an earlier work into a work-in-progress?

As I move from one part of a larger project to another, I like to plunk down chunks of text as placeholders to frame the argument, provide theoretical or historical context, etc. I italicize this text as a shorthand to myself. As I share my work-in-progress with others attending a small conference, would it be bad to leave it in italics with a note that it is copied from my other published and unpublished work? Is there a norm for (or against) doing this?

most concise paper ever published

H/T my friend Phil Spiro:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1311997/pdf/jaba00061-0143a.pdf

 

technical notes for co-authoring

I am writing up a set of instructions for my student co-authors on how to work together on a shared Word document. My own graduate education had abundant training in the word processing arts (owing to a 2nd job I had to take to make ends meet), but I find that not every graduate student has a deep knowledge of WordPerfect 5.1 MS Word. So far, I have these tips: Continue reading

ask a scatterbrain: R&R response letter

With all the discussion about journals, submitting, and reviewing, there has been little discussion about the revise-and-resubmit response letter….

What is necessary to include in a response letter to the editors and reviewers?  What is overkill?  How long have your letters been? Have you written separate letters for each reviewer?   How do you explain away changes you didn’t make because you didn’t agree with the reviewer?  etc.

Thanks y’all!  Looking forward to SF!

my book in index cards

I came upon a box in my office today. It contained my book, or at least many chunks of it, in index cards. It looked like this:

bookincards

I think it looks beautiful. Continue reading

going and stopping

Almost everyone agrees — and this is supported by my own many years of observation of colleagues — that the  most productive scholars have regular schedules of writing a few hours every day.  We binge writers can be intensely productive when we are working and can get a lot done in a short time, but over the long haul we are simply less productive than the “write every day” people.  A big reason for this is that if you have been away from the writing for more than two days, you forget what you were doing and have to invest a lot of time in start up and remembering where you were. The turtle beats the hare every time. I have known this for years and “write every day” is the advice I give students, even though I have never successfully followed that advice for an extended period.

Today I figured out the other half of the problem. It isn’t just a problem with self-discipline.  Continue reading

my grammatical pet peeves

Here are some of the things that annoy me in papers, presentations, etc., and that I’m apt to edit out or mark on manuscripts/papers I’m reviewing/grading:

  1. Comprise vs. compose
  2. Split infinitives
  3. Use of “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun
  4. Use of the second person, just about ever
  5. Use of “natural” or “human nature” as (implicit or explicit) cause of outcomes
  6. Which vs. that

What are your pet peeves?

best book in the universe! now in book form!

Well, maybe not the best book from an objective point of view, but from where I am standing, the arrival of my very own copy of this book is pretty amazing.

I just got my advance copy of How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism. It is an analysis of the complex dynamics of opposing movements, wrapped in a fascinating historical account of the lesbian and gay movement and the religious right. It gave me chills (who knew that writing a book was so similar to influenza?) to see it, all printed up with pretty fonts and a cover and my name right there on the front (and the back! and the spine!).

I guess it’s just one sort of thing to be writing a book, and writing, and writing. Still writing that book, Tina? Yes indeed, still writing. Is that the same book you were writing last year? Yes, yes it is. And it’s a whole different sort of thing to have written a book. I have to say that I prefer the latter. On top of that, I think it turned out to be pretty good, if I do say so myself.

From the back cover:

While gay rights are on the national agenda now, activists have spent decades fighting for their platform, seeing themselves as the David to the religious right’s Goliath. At the same time, the religious right has continuously and effectively opposed the efforts of lesbian and gay activists, working to repeal many of the laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and to progress a constitutional amendment “protecting” marriage. Continue reading

co-authoring: ask a scatterbrain

From an esteemed colleague:

What set of issues should be discussed before two (or more) people agree to write a paper together?  There are obvious contenders here – order of authorship, timeline, etc. – but what else is important?

publishing: ask a scatterbrain*

Some questions on publishing:

What are the politics of publishing? Which journals are professional brass rings? Are there journals that might accept my articles but at the same time are so unrespected that publishing in them is tantamount to admitting I’m a lousy academic? The impact factor is one way to go about it but my sense is that it is not sensitive to the preferences of different subfields in sociology. Finally, how do universities and other professionals view mainstream publications?

* – for some reason I am thinking of discontinuing this series. I’m not sure why. But I’m not going to make a unilateral decision. I’ll construct a poll about that later. So stay tuned.

the brief research statement

A graduate student of mine is writing up a scholarship application that includes a one-page statement of proposed research. In giving this student feedback, I offered the following advice for what to include and the order in which to present it:

My proposed study is about this. Here is why this problem is important. Here is what we know about this problem. These studies leave THIS IMPORTANT THING that needs to be found out. Here is what I will do to find that out. I will do the study this way. It will produce these results. This is the value of doing the work. This is why I am qualified to do it, and whom I’ll work with. Remember, this is the contribution my study will make.

Do you masterminds of sociology have any feedback for me on my feedback to students? After all, you have read more than your share of research proposals. Wouldn’t the world of sociology be a better place if we all knew how to write the one-pager?

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