Thursday, July 28, 2011

Progress Report 5

There's lots of work to do. I've been spending most the morning brooding over how to proceed. Part of the strategy, going forward, is going to have to be to give myself a larger space in which to think about academic writing consultancy, and I have already made a decision to spend the next 16-week blogging regimen (starting mid-August) simply perusing the archives and reposting some "classics". The selections will then also be moved into the framework of a book. Working title (of course): Research as a Second Language.

What I need is a more fully developed theory of academic writing, as well as proper methodology. I have been learning largely by doing these past five years, albeit always with a tradition at the back of my mind. Epistemology, philosophy of science, phenomenology. In order to write about what I have been doing, I need to make a whole set of tacit competences explicit, and then set these against the available theories of scientific knowledge (and especially the recent theories of the production and distribution of knowledge). Otherwise, it become a mere memoir.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Progress Report 4

Done. I've finished the first draft, rough as it is. As I've been saying, I've been very unsatisfied with the actual business of writing, but forcing myself to in fact experience that lack of satisfaction, without sitting down (except for structured breaks) at the piano, or indulging in other distractions, has been an important experience. It has moved the project forward, and the next three days of editing will, I hope, show me exactly how far I've come, if not the page, then at least in my thinking on this subject.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Progress Report 3

This is really not the satisfying week of writing I'd been anticipating. But it is having one of the very desired effects of sitting down and doing the work. I'm discovering how vague my understanding of what I've been doing all these years really is. I'm writing plenty of prose, but it seems to me to be quite breezy. Today I wrote another 10 paragraph, and more than 2000 words in two hour-and-a-half sessions. But if I'd put my mind to it I could probably have doubled that.

Tomorrow, I'll write the last 2000 words that my draft is missing. That's a day or two ahead of schedule, depending on how you count (I have also started a day earlier than I originally planned to). So my task for Thursday will be to read the thing through and make an after-the-fact outline. I think that at that point it will become clear where the substance of the paper is missing. I can then spend the Friday and Saturday sessions doing something about it, after which I will send to someone who has kindly offered to read it.

There's still half a year to submission, so I'm not worried. But I do think I have some serious thinking to do in that time, in addition to the rewriting I will certainly have to do. In this case, the writing is becoming an occasion for self-knowledge, and the beginning of a new reading plan as well.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Progress Report 2

Not quite the productive morning I had imagined. I started at 8:00 and have now been working (at times too vaguely) for three and a half hours. I've taken breaks to play the piano, shower, make coffee, and even read a little. I've written ten paragraphs (as planned) but only 1650 words (a bit less than the 2000 I had expected.) Some of the paragraphs are in very rough shape.

Tomorrow I'll start at 8:00 again, sticking to my plan by proceeding to the first two sections of my "results", i.e., factual descriptions of my work as a writing consultant. But I'm going to divide the morning into two 90 minute sessions. Each of which is to produce five paragraphs of prose, roughly 20 minutes at a time. I'll take 30 minutes after each section to reflect a little, probably reading a little more Foucault and Heidegger to nurse today's wounds (I felt I lacked precision mainly in regard to their work). I'll also spend part of the last 30 minutes tomorrow writing a post like this one.

Also, I found myself dissipating a little last night, surfing the internet, listening to music, getting to bed a bit later than I perhaps should have. I'm going to try to a be a bit more focused tonight so that I have more strength in the morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Progress Report 1

I've been working since 10:00 and have now completed ten paragraphs of roughly 200 words each (some are a good deal longer than that). I have a three-paragraph introduction, a two-paragraph conclusion, and a five-paragraph background section. Tomorrow I will write the theory section and the methdology section. I had planned to work on each paragraph for 30 minutes, but this appears to be a decadent luxury I don't need. 20 minutes is enough for the present purpose of writing a first draft. That means that I should be able to write ten paragraphs every 4-hour session (taking some breaks along the way).

I'm going to have lunch now, and then do some leisure reading. (When I go back to work tomorrow, I've got meetings and administration to see to in the afternoons after my writing sessions.) Then I'm going to go for a jog (I plan to take a short jog every afternoon this week to see how that feels.)

Hemingway said he always lived a "hell of healthy life" for the first few hours every day (which is when he also did his writing). After the jog, I expect to do some less healthy things but nonetheless to get to bed early enough to begin my writing session at 7:00.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Practicing What I Preach (while preaching what I practice)

I've got another week of vacation left, but then it's back to work. And to kick things off I've decided to draft a 40 paragraph paper in 20 hours, which will follow my "ideal" structure. (Do note Peter's reminder not to confuse those ideals with the achievable reality.) That is, it will have a three-paragraph introduction, five paragraphs of "background", five of "theory", five of "method", and then three five-paragraph sections presenting my "results", followed by five paragraphs of "discussion" and two paragraphs of conclusion.

My outline so far looks like this:

I. Introduction
§1 Publication is increasingly important in academic life.
§2 Since its inception, social epistemology has rightly construed knowledge as "the property of a distributed network of exchanges" (Fuller 1993), i.e., as embedded in what Foucault (1972) called "discourse".
§3 In this paper I propose a vocation for social epistemologists: that of "resident writing consultant", an "archivist" in Foucault's sense.

II. "Publish or Perish", Then and Now (Background)
§4-8 The history of "publish or perish" can be traced back to before WWII and forward to today's Denmark.

III. The Archives of Babel
§9 Bernard Bolzano's "Theory of Science" presented itself as a kind of "grammar" of academic writing, i.e., the rules by which treatises were to be written.
§10 Inspired by Wittgenstein, this dream was taken up in earnest by the logical positivists in the early 20th century.
§11 In the 1960s, an interest in "paradigms" (Kuhn) and "discourses" (Foucault) began to replace the positivists' focus on a logic of propositions and occasioned the so-called "crisis of representation".
§12 The resulting "post-modern condition" has been unfairly allegorized by invoking Borges's "Library of Babel".
§13 Social epistemology attempts to recover from this condition by emphasizing the "rhetorical function of representation" over the "representational function of language" (Fuller 1993).

IV. Inframethodology
§14 Foucault's "archive" is the site of discursive practices that lie between the corpus and the language.
§15 Inframethodology is a level of epistemological analaysis that lies "beneath method".
§16 Research is here construed as a craft.
§17 Knowledge is taken to be an ability to converse.
§18 The social epistemologist can best study these practices by engaging with them directly, i.e., supporting them.

V. The Resident Writing Consultant
§19-23 Since 2007, I have been the "resident writing consultant" at a major European business school.

VI. Research as a Second Language
§24-28 My basic approach was to go at the problem of scholarly writing through an immersion in the actual discourses/paradigms that the scholars I was supporting participated in.

VII. Writing Process Reengineering
§29-33 A significant component of my consultancy became helping scholars protect and manage their writing time.

VIII. Discussion
§34-38 There are several lessons to be drawn from my experience as a writing consultant.

IX. Conclusion
§39 This paper has forty paragraphs. [I really like this little bit of meta-writing. But it may be a darling I'll have to kill.]
§40 Johannes de Silentio (Kierkegaard) and Bartleby the Scrivener (Melville), both of whom were "supplementary clerks" are the literary partron saints of social epistemology construed as resident writing consultancy.

Please notice that this outline consists of a series of claims, not a series of topics to be discussed. Even where I have not yet decided on the key sentences of each paragraph (and even in the cases where I am just guessing at what I will be saying), I have made the effort of articulating a claim I believe to be true. This allows me to discuss (with myself and others) how I know them to be true and, to some extent, what I mean by them. Do let me know what you think.

Like I say, starting on the 25th, I will be spending four hours a day, a half hour at a time, writing each of the 40 paragraphs enumerated here. At the end of those 20 hours of work, then, I will have a pretty solid first draft. Obviously, I've spent quite a few hours already planning this out, thinking about it, etc. Now that I know what I want to say, I have to write it out. Then I can begin to think about how good my ideas really are.

The deadline for this paper is early 2012. So I'll have plenty of time to schedule a revision process as well.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Writing to Reach Summer

Summer has arrived, and the colony has come to an end. This is the last entry in my "colonial diary" (which didn't turn out to be much of diary, after all. Next time, I think I'll make a daily entry.)

It is my hope (and my sense) that the participants had a good time and became, at the very least, more aware of their writing process. I hope they learned something about how to manage the time and space of their writing, and something about the finite object that a research paper is. I also hope that many of them actually finished their project or soon will (before they go on vacation) and that they will be submitting it for review. For them, I offer this little story, which I originally posted over at Jonathan Mayhew's Stupid Motivational Tricks.

It's my interpretation of Travis's music video "Writing to Reach You" as an allegory about the peer review process. Watch the video and read along.

The whole process is a "front stage" activity in Goffman's sense. Backstage, [0:04] you touch up the manuscript before submitting it, you put on your best face. Then you submit it [0:20], the manuscript is now in process.

The reviewers examine your paper [0:37] and you eventually get the answer back from the journal [0:55]. The reviewers have some hard words to say about your work, but it sort of hurts them [1:16] as much as it hurts you to hurl criticism at your manuscript. After reading their report you pick yourself up. You keep going.

[1:25] Though their own projects are stuck in their own way, your colleagues are waiting and willing to help. They offer you support and you submit the paper again.

[1:55] You receive the answer from the second round of reviews. A senior editor is now taking an active interest. [2:05] You feel like you have to run for cover, but [2:35] when the dust settles and the smoke clears you can see he was only taking one of your reviewers out of the equation [2:50].

Still, you sort of like that reviewer's style, and you try it out for few paragraphs in your next rewrite. You incorporate one of his ideas as a sort of scalp [2:53]. The other reviewer is not impressed [2:56]. Fortunately, you've developed a thick skin. You absorb the new criticism and cast off the more outrageous arrows [3:02]. That idea you took from the discarded reviewer's comments wasn't really you anyway [3:17].

You get ready to resubmit another version [3:21]. There's a brief moment of hesitation [3:29], but you do it anyway. When you get the letter saying your paper has been accepted it's like coming home. [3:35] Your colleagues and your peers are in the same room, so to speak. In fact, one of your anonymous reviewers reveals who she is and congratulates you [3:40]. She loves your paper now, and she's going to run with a few of your ideas. [3:43]

You're backstage again. [3:45] Your inside is outside.