If the scholar feels that he must know everything about any topic, he is in trouble – and will not publish with a clear conscience. – Kenneth L. Pike
We are lucky enough to live in an area that has woods close by, ones that we don’t walk enough in.
But when we do go with friends we walk and talk and make plans.
One of those plans came a bit closer as a paper I worked on made its way through the first set of hurdles at a journal and is waiting to be peer-reviewed.
I’ve learned a few things along the way.
1. Understand the conventions of your genre
Academic writing is very focused, You write for a community that has worked to define its space and place and has a literature and set of ideas that give the community a foundation.
If you want to publish in a journal that serves that community you need to learn what they’re looking for and the kind of work that they will recognise. One way of doing this is to make sure there are plenty of references to earlier articles from the journal you are targeting.
It’s a lot like book publishing – you need to write for a genre – choose whether you’re doing crime, business or romance.
Mixing genres just gets people confused.
2. Take time to construct sentences and paragraphs that work
Writing is about creating sentences, a run of words that means something to the reader.
It’s very easy to create confusing sentences filled with jargon. Sometimes the jargon is actually a very precise way of saying something important, but all too often it masks a lack of real understanding of the subject.
Putting sentences together to create a coherent paragraph is much harder than it seems. You have to work and rework your sentences, pushing, teasing, moulding, cutting, massaging them until they fit together and say something sensible.
3. Abandon your work and press send
Paul Valéry wrote that art is not finished but abandoned. You will never be happy with your work, it’s never completely there, every idea and every thought perfectly captured in prose.
But when you’re done and it’s been read by your colleagues it’s time to send it into the world and see what happens.
It may come back with a demand for corrections, attract criticism, even rejected. It may take years to find it a home.
While you’re waiting there’s time to take another walk, and start thinking about the next paper, the next work of art.