Academic writing: the one book you really need

There is no shortage of books on academic writing. If you cannot decide where to start, in my view, you should start with “Write No Matter What” by Joli Jensen. Here’s why:

  • it’s relatively short
  • it summarizes the best advice out there
  • it’s realistic

Like other books on academic writing, it starts by addressing common myths about academic writing. I find it painful to see these myths repeated in my own environment. In Jensen’s book, you’ll learn three taming techniques (creating a project box, using a ventilation file, and writing at least 15 minutes every day). So we’re looking at being organized, being realistic (i.e. having room for frustration, writing blocks, etc.), and that important continuing contact with the writing project.

Compared to other similar books I know, I really liked how “Write No Matter What” does not imply that if only you were more disciplined, you’d get all that writing done. No, instead there is an entire section on maintaining momentum, lost trails, and handling revisions and rejections. Getting stalled? There’s an entire chapter on that.

I didn’t enjoy the chapters on writing support that much, but if you’re looking into setting up a campus-wide (or even faculty-wide) writing support, you’ll get plenty of ideas what may or may not work.

Writing style is explicitly not covered, and I think that’s a good thing. Not that books on good writing were redundant — to the contrary! — but this way we get a focused book that can serve everyone from a first-year PhD student to established faculty.

More Support and Templates in SciFlow

SciFlow is an online editor for academics. They have recently updated and expanded the documentation, so should you ever get stuck, here’s how to. That said, the interface is pretty intuitive, so I’m not sure you’ll ever need to navigate to the support pages for basic editing.

There are some useful hints, though, like using zbib (Zotero) with Sciflow (instructions here). This gets pretty close to Authorea’s citation feature, and is also useful for collaborative texts (and doesn’t suffer from the slowness of direct Zotero/Mendeley connections if you have a large database of references).

The SciFlow team have also recently updated the Templates feature:

There are many journal styles to choose from. It’s not quite (yet) like typeset.io, but the social sciences are not well covered by typeset anyway. SciFlow offers some useful templates, but in most cases, it’s necessary to do some finishing before submitting to a journal. On the other hand, there’s a template for minutes — that’s useful for anyone working in a team, and who isn’t?

In most cases the generic templates will do, including the SciFlow templates which support many common citation styles.

Who is an author?

This comes up in discussions from time to time, but guess what you’re not the first to wonder. Here are the guidelines we used in the SOM project. Our IP policies had the following section:

Who is an Author?
When writing and publishing a piece, every individual mentioned as a co-author is co-responsible: all authors are fully responsible for the contents and stand behind the contents. They should be able to defend the paper as a whole (not necessarily technical details). Only the following can be named authors:

    individuals who have contributed substantially to the specific question and the research plan (conception and design of research)
    individuals who carried out the research (data processing, data analysis)
    individuals who substantially contributed to the interpretation of results
    individuals who drafted the manuscript (including drafting substantial sections, such as a literature review, or a results section)
    individuals who critically reviewed the manuscript, leading to substantive changes

The following are not named as authors:

    individuals who were only involved in data collection
    individuals who provided or secured funding
    individuals who just read the manuscript
    honorary authorship

Multiple Authors
Where there are multiple authors, authors are listed by relative contribution (Lake 2010). In addition, authors are encouraged to include a short statement (e.g. as footnote or at the end of the article) indicating the division of labour between the co-authors. Such a statement should also be included where the contributions are equal. Authorship and other credits are included in early drafts of papers to help resolve any future disputes.

For articles based on the thesis or dissertation of a student, students should normally be the first author.

If no clear differences can be determined, authors are listed in alphabetical order.

We even had the following: “Where authors cannot agree on who made the most significant contribution or other aspects of authorship, disputes are referred to the managing board minus involved parties. The board considers the main contribution of the paper to the literature to determine which contributions are considered more significant. If the dispute cannot be resolved by the managing board, the managing board will appoint a neutral third party.” — but this was never needed.

D. Lake, “Who’s on first? Listing authors by relative contribution trumps the alphabet,” PS: Political Science & Politics 43, no. 1 (2010): 43-47.

The entire section was introduced with the following footnote: “This section is based on J. Reemtsma, “Regeln zur Sicherung guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis am Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung” (Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung, 2009); and BSA, “Authorship Guidelines,” The British Sociological Association, 2001, http://www.britsoc.co.uk/Library/authorship_01.pdf.”