Monday, October 20, 2008


An orderly writing process is not an end in itself. Neither is a steadily growing list of publications. A sustainable research process depends on the recurring satisfaction of your curiosity. If you are not discovering interesting answers to your own interesting questions on a regular basis you will get lost in a thicket of extrinsic motives.

I see evidence of this all the time, and not just among the authors I work with myself. PhD students start looking for something akin to school assignments from their supervisors. Researchers begin to chase calls for papers and start demanding explicit criteria from their schools and departments (what journals "count"?). And they begin to lose sight of why they got into research in the first place.

External constraints are an important part of academic life. But they only make sense if you insist on your own, internal motives to engage in research. To my mind, the best way to insist on these motives is to acknowledge your curiosity and make a real effort to satisfy it. This effort will shape much of your research process in a natural way.

Beyond that, you will need to impose some artificial structure in order to "get things done", as it has become fashionable to say. The trick is not to let this artificial structure trump your natural curiosity. It should complement it.

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