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By Dr. Ron Johnson, Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University, and Dr. Wanda Curlee, Associate Professor, School of Business, American Public University
Note: This article was originally published on Online Career Tips.
Each summer, professional writers and would-be authors gather at writers’ workshops around the country for a couple of weeks to hone their skills, pick up writing tips and network with other writers.
A workshop in scholarly writing could be just what you need to improve your work, whether you are an experienced author or looking for your first published article.
Upon completing the workshop, you will find you have grown professionally as a writer and personally through the interaction with your fellow writers. You will have a systematic approach to publication. In addition, you will have a network you can rely upon when taking on new academic writing projects.
Academic Writing and the Value of Writing Workshops
Academic writing starts with a precise reason to write — a master’s thesis, a doctoral dissertation or an article for a peer-reviewed journal. So understanding your intended audience will help you focus your work. Remember, your article needs to answer the so what question: “Here are facts you didn’t know before.” Without this important step, your work may not be of any interest to your target publication.
Writing workshops, whether in-person or online, are ubiquitous – everything from poetry and short fiction to biography and scientific manuscripts.
Like those genres, scholarly writing is really just a matter of style. It is no more challenging to compose than a newspaper article, a novel or an autobiography. The academic article has a different purpose and a more rigorous structure that must be adhered to; it is not creative writing.
Highlights of a 12-Week Scholarly Writing Workshop
We just finished a 12-week workshop on publishing academic writing, sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at APUS. Our course started with 15 full- and part-time professors coming together in week one; a few professors unfortunately withdrew as the weeks went on.
The course followed the book “Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, A Guide to Academic Publishing Success” by Wendy Laura Belcher.
Each week was devoted to a chapter in her book. For example, there was a chapter on writing the abstract and a chapter on formatting the introduction, the literature review, editing, conclusion and other essentials like proper formats for citations and end notes.
The chapters also included exercises to strengthen the various sections in our work. One of the earlier chapters described the various types of articles. There are then some tips to try to figure out which type of article you have when it is not apparent
Using one exercise was helpful in determining what was a traditional academic article and what was not. Another exercise was finding an article in your area, looking at the citation and seeing if yours resonated with the example.
The section that many of us in the workshop found enlightening and helpful was color-coding the various grammatical issues we might have with our papers. That section taught us to color-code manually or automatically with MS Word. To run this diagnostic, the find and replace feature in Word can highlight words meeting various parameters.
In the search option, you may put whole words. If you put “^&” in the replace box, you can then click on format and select a color. Whatever you put in the find box will now be highlighted in that color. You just keep on with the exercise until you find all diagnostics with the find and replace feature.
Using Other Reviewers for Constructive Criticism
Belcher’s book suggests having a writing buddy. That was the beauty of the class; we had built-in scholarly writing buddies.
The workshop format was to submit a portion of your paper almost every week to be edited by someone in the group. If you were lucky, more than one participant would provide constructive criticism.
One favorite week’s exercise was to revise the worst sentence in an article. For example, imagine that one sentence was too long and just did not read or relay the information in the right way.
That week, five people responded with different ways to rewrite the sentence. Some rearranged the words while others did an entire re-write of the sentence. Each response was different and while you could take one suggestion, you could also develop the sentence with elements from all recommendations. In the end, several recommendations were adopted and one sentence was converted into two.
The Finer Points of Scholarly Writing
Scholarly articles do differ from other types of writing in certain respects. You need to avoid using adverbs, adjectives and superlatives. You need to write clearly and to the point. Your article must be grammatically correct and completely free of spelling and usage errors.
While writing your article, you need to ensure that it flows logically. Look at other articles from the journal you wish to publish in to see how that publication’s articles flow. Also, you need to support your article with facts and evidence. That means using other authors’ scholarly writing to support your ideas and conclusions and citing them correctly.
It is important to know the targeted journal’s style requirements upfront. Does the journal require American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA) or some other style format?
Does the journal require an abstract, literature review, end notes or footnotes? Don’t be caught off guard! Meeting the requirements will minimize your rewriting and formatting. In addition, how well you meet those requirements will determine whether or not the editors accept or reject your submission.
Once you have written about 15 pages of your article, it’s time to consider signing up for the CTL 12-week course. Workshops can help you really tighten the flow of your article. It is not recommend that you write your article in the class. If you haven’t begun it before the workshop, you won’t get the full benefit of actually working with what you’ve written. The class is all about editing your article to get it as perfect as possible.
Results of the Workshop
Dr. Nicole Drumhiller, Program Director and Professor of Security and Global Studies at American Public University, was our workshop instructor. Her positive attitude and gentle prodding made the scholarly writing class enjoyable, informative and constructive. Dr. Drumhiller was editing her own article along the way as well, which made the class all the more relevant to the rest of us.
About the Authors
Dr. Ronald Johnson is a professor in the School of Business at American Public University. A product of the military’s voluntary higher education system, he earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. Ron’s classrooms were in the United Kingdom, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Bosnia. He considers it his highest honor serving military students to help them reach their academic goals.
Dr. Wanda Curlee is an associate professor in the School of Business at American Public University. She teaches leadership, team leadership, reverse logistics and the master’s capstone classes. Dr. Curlee is active with the Project Management Institute’s certification and standards teams. She currently serves on the Ethics Review Committee, a Board-sponsored position. Dr. Curlee also served on the Requirements Practice Guide and Program Management Standard (4th edition) core teams and was part of the team that developed the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) certification.
Dr. Curlee has published three books; two delve into complexity theory and one is about virtual PMOs. She has earned four PMI credentials: PfMP, PgMP, PMP and PMI-RMP.
She is proud to be the mother of three children who have served or currently serve in the U.S. military. She met her husband, Steve, while both were serving in the Navy.
Ready When You Are
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