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Special New Referrer's Discount for May 3 Academic Writing Club !
Introduce the Academic Writing Club to a friend, and you each get a discount!

It's time to start thinking about who you know who could benefit from the Writing Club. This is your chance to give them the opportunity to try the Club and get $10 off, while getting a $10 refund of your own. This applies to both current members and those who have never been a member -- so find a buddy and sign up together. Just ask your friend to enter the word "REFER" into the coupon code in the shopping cart page, and also tell them to enter *your* name (the referrer) into the comment box at the bottom of the page, so you will get your refund after you sign up yourself. If you're already a member, you will be sent a $10 refund, too! Tell your friend, colleague, or student to go to http://academicwritingclub.com now to join!


Stop Pussyfooting around and Just Say It!

ImageThe most common reason for people to join the Academic Writing Club or request coaching is that they are stuck, confused and overwhelmed by their writing projects.  I'm sure you've felt this at times – you have a sense of what you want to write, but you just can't seem to get it "on paper."

So in coaching, I use a simple technique – I ask them to explain it to me.  Luckily, I rarely know anything about their field, so they are forced to explain it to an intelligent layperson (pardon the bragging) in words that leave out jargon and get right to the point.  Often, while they are explaining, I just type every single word they say.  When they're done, invariably there are two results.  The most frequent result is that my client suddenly says something along the lines of "I can't believe it – that's it!  I just discovered what my point really is!"  The other possible result is that I tell them I've typed out what they just said and I offer to email it to them immediately.  About half the people take me up on this, (the other half feel so strongly that the "truth" has been revealed to them that they don't need it).  Those who select to have me email them my notes often find them useful in making the points in their own writing – after all, these were their own words, verbatim!

So what is going on here?  Why does explaining your work at a point where you are stuck help you gain clarity?  I have some thoughts on this, but not definitive answers.  Perhaps some of you have ideas about why this works; that's why I'm going to put this article in my blog, so that you can put in your ideas and comments.

Why does explaining your work to a layperson help?

  1. You momentarily forget what "the experts" might say. By stripping away all the confusion caused by the possible objections that a person in your field would have, your "inner editor" can rest easy, and allow you to talk.  After all, how could I, a mere intelligent layperson, possibly critique the ideas of an expert in their field?
  2. The change in modality -- that is, talking instead of writing -- might activate a different part of the brain.  It's another way to quiet the inner editor. 
  3. It's harder to edit and second guess yourself when you speak as opposed to write. This forces you to get to the heart of your argument more quickly.
  4. The need to simplify the issues that matter (for the attentive, listening layperson) helps you get right to the point; again to drill down to the meat of your argument.
  5. Those who feel they are not good writers are free to express themselves.  Just the belief that you don't write well can stop you from coming out with some really good thoughts.  So talking bypasses that problem.

In what situations could this technique help you?

  1. When you're trying to write an abstract.  Abstracts are often difficult to write because you have to weed through all the complex thoughts that went into the article and again come right to the point.  Try writing your abstract imagining that you're explaining it to a colleague in a very different field than yours.
  2. When you're overwhelmed and confused and have lost track of your argument.
  3. When you can't write what's next and you don't know why.  In this case, the kind of questions you might want to answer would include:
    1. What are your choices?
    2. What is getting in the way?
    3. If you were to write one of those choices, what would you say?
    4. If you wrote the other choice, what would you say?

Where do you find an intelligent layperson?

This is a tongue-in-cheek question – I'm sure you're surrounded by them.  (Or maybe not – see next section.) The only caveats I would offer are:

  1. If you are very self conscious about your work, try to find a non-academic.  Academics are too analytical and critical.  No offense.
  2. Make sure that the person you choose is willing to do this.  They should be willing to ask "dumb questions," because by answering disingenuous questions, they will force you clarify your argument.
  3. If possible, find a fast typist and ask them to type what you say.

What if you'd rather do this on your own?

Perhaps your spouse or partner doesn't feel comfortable doing this, and all your other friends are academics?  What if Aunt Mary is hard of hearing?  Here are some suggestions for techniques you could try, which you could do on your own. These techniques also may silent that inner critic and help you get to the core of the problem.

  1. With a clear idea of an intelligent layperson in mind, get out a tape recorder and talk into it as if you were talking to that person.  Then transcribe what you said.
  2. Try free writing.  I've written about this elsewhere, but here's a short summary.  The idea is that you sit down and start writing about your conundrum, with the knowledge that your writing is only for your use and not to be shown to anyone or used in any future work.  You can then write about the problem at hand without worrying how stupid it looks.  Try it first with a timer, giving yourself 10 minutes to get to the point.

ImageTry not to "pussyfoot" around

So many academics are hesitant to plant a pole in their little stretch of academic land and claim it as their own!  So they make the reader hunt around and try to figure out what they really mean.  This annoys the reader.  A lot. 

Come right out and proudly state what your finding or argument is.  And to the extent possible, do this in every paragraph. Of course, coming right out and saying it also helps you find the flaws in your logic.  It's much better to say it and be clearly wrong, than it is to annoy your reader and be wrong!  Best to get it over with, so you can correct your errors in logic or statistics and move on.  Being fuzzy in your writing won't make them think that you're brilliant.


You're brilliant – they just might not know it yet; and you might not know it either.

What if your idea is actually a good one?  And your lack of clarity comes from your reluctance to put it to the test?  How unfair to the world, that this idea is not allowed to see the clear light of day.  How unfair to you, that your brilliance is not being recognized.

One final note

Please don't hide behind "I'm not a good writer" or "Engish is not my first language."  You can hire a developmental editor such as Claudia Castaneda (info@claudiacastaneda.com), get a copy editor, or hire a professional who specializes in English as a second language editing.  You might find someone who can translate from your native language.  (It's best to find a native English speaker in that case.)  The idea is to…

GET THAT IDEA OUT THERE!  And stop pussyfooting around.



© Gina Hiatt, PhD.
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully. Get Gina's free assessments & ezine at www.academicladder.com

Ready to finish your dissertation? Coaching can help you complete it more quickly with less pain. Write Gina about individual or group coaching.

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If you don't join the Academic Writing Club after reading this testimonial….

Hello Academic Ladder!

It's been a long time since I've signed in, but seeing this email reminded me that I want to thank A.L.

I joined [the Academic Writing Club] a while ago with NO work done on my dissertation, I was still studying for comps and writing my prospectus. However, I stuck with it and remained loyal, and by the end of my time with A.L. I felt as if I was the one in my group that I had looked at with envy when I had first joined!

I wrote my dissertation in record time (450 pages!), got a publishing contract, defended early in the semester, and am graduating in just a few weeks. In fact, I have a job interview in New York in a couple days!

I loved my experience at Academic Ladder and I will definitely be returning with my future writing.

Thank you,
(Dr.) Lisa Hall, who was granted a Ph.D. in Theatre History and Criticism at the University of Colorado, Boulder
(Published with her permission)

A Big Congratulations to…

Kathryn M. Silva Banks, who successfully defended her Ph.D. in History at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.  She became an Academic Writing Club member last August, and says that this is what kept her on track.  She will now rejoin as a tenure-track faculty member!  This is what the Academic Writing Club is all about! 

She says, "We have nothing like this in my university and it is a shame because so many people need it. I already have a few friends who are thinking of using it when they become ABD. I only wish I had known sooner." [Quote and identifying information used with permission.]

Special Groups Within the Academic Writing Club

There's still room in either of our two new faculty groups in the Club:

1.  Faculty Administrators - fitting in writing while performing all of your administrative work

2.  Faculty Parents - fitting in writing while also being the primary caregiver for young children

Just request either of these groups when you register and sign in.

Quotes of the Month

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Voltaire (1694 - 1778)

"I agree with everything you say, but I would attack to the death your right to say it."
—Tom Stoppard (1937)

"Take a stand against bland."
—Andrea J. Lee
, quoting unknown source.

"No one can give you permission to assert your authority.  You must claim your own authority." 
—Pam Slim

My Interview with Wandering Educators

Dr. Jessie Voigts interviewed me for the Wandering Educators website.  I am fascinated with the premise of this site: "We are an eclectic group of global and traveling educators, bent on sharing our passion for travel with like-minded individuals."  I am a wanderer myself, since I can accomplish my work from anywhere with an Internet connection and a phone, and I travel as much as possible.  We had a great meeting of the minds!

So check out the interview and the Wandering Educators site!

Book of the Month

destination dissertationDestination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters.  Today I'm celebrating Chapter 9:  "Useful Phrases: Writing and Editing."  This chapter will help you stop pussyfooting around.  I especially like their discussion of what they call "Fast Writing" – that's a great term.  They compare this to their other concept – "Slow Revising."  Love it!  They give lots of other meaty hints just in this chapter.  I'd say it's a book well worth getting.

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