Continuous Learning 1: Actions for Becoming a Successful Academic Author
‘Publish or perish!’ This axiom is a friend, bane or perhaps both to academic researchers around the world, regardless of their field of study. If research is one side of the academic coin, writing and publishing must be the other. Many resources exist to help authors with preparing their papers; few provide insight into some subtle yet essential characteristics of successful academic writing. This article looks at some of those essential subtle elements that will help you succeed.
1. Create protected time to write
Many authors do not budget or schedule protected time to write. They work on their papers late at night, on weekends or during vacations. Such efforts, while often necessary, will not consistently yield excellent manuscripts. Develop regular blocks of writing time into your calendar to ensure sufficient time to create research masterpieces.
2. Learn to write
Most academics and researchers spend the vast majority of time in the lab, clinic or classroom. They labour — quite properly — on discovery. Few, however, have spent time learning how to write in order to communicate their findings. Take a course or two on how to write and study examples of excellent articles. Learning how to write at the start of your career will yield large rewards later on.
3. Consider writing as a process, not a product
Authors often say they learn more in writing an article than they do in merely reading an article. Writing can and should be construed as a learning process. Instead of a (dreaded) requirement for tenure, it may help to view it as an essential discipline of your field, and as part of the scientific/academic endeavour rather than as an end product.
4. Savour the struggle
Writing is hard work. Even the best writers find it difficult. Be willing to struggle at writing. Finding joy in the struggle will provide you the tenacity and resolve to push through any writing blocks. The satisfaction of seeing your article ultimately published in a journal outweighs the writing hardships encountered on the way.
5. Develop a thick skin
One fact is certain in academia: your manuscript submissions will be rejected. Often. Do not see rejection as failure; view it as a teachable moment. Be willing to be rejected and be willing to revise your papers in order to have them ultimately accepted. Remember: some of the most heralded authors received hundreds of rejections prior to their first acceptance. Don’t give up!
6. Strive for quality over quantity
Quality articles and research on questions that matter are better than ‘bulk’ publishing. While tenure committees may have certain requirements on the number of articles needed for consideration, less is typically more. Ground-breaking research, elegantly presented, is better than an abundance of confirmatory data. And although it takes effort, try to make each article a masterpiece (sometimes, a ‘mini-masterpiece’) in and of itself.
7. Acknowledge other/previous researchers
Show whose shoulders you rest on. Document and credit those who have gone before you, through the References, Footnotes and Acknowledgments sections. It’s also good academic form to share success with others.
8. Cultivate wonder for your field
Never forget what first captured your interest in your field of study. Maintaining the fascination, the wonder, the mystery and the excitement of discovery will keep you fresh and open for more. Researchers who are passionate about their field of study always write more persuasive articles and are better communicators.
9. Keep the door open for further study
‘Future study is needed. . .’ Your research is never done. The last sentence of every paper should encourage the need for additional study – yours and that of others.
Imbibing these characteristics of academic writing will create a highly productive atmosphere for you as you plumb the mysteries and depths of your field, and will set the stage for success in your publishing career.
Read next in series: Continuous Learning 2: Methods to keep up with the latest literature
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