10 Nov 2014

Developing an Academic Writing Blog

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian, NUI Maynooth

Writing is a really good way of sharing knowledge, experience and research. I find the process of writing helps me clarify thoughts and experiences and often gives me new ideas. It’s also a very good way to make connections with people who share common concerns but who perhaps operate in different contexts; for example writing for AISHE-J offers librarians an opportunity to share their experiences of information literacy and other library-related topics with academics internationally.I’ve been writing since 1991, the year I returned from working at the University of Sierra Leone. Initially, I focused on writing about my experiences overseas only later realising that my everyday work in Ireland could be crafted into interesting articles.

Academic Writing Workshops
In 2007, I ran my first academic writing workshop. A year later I surveyed the participants and found that 40% of them had published or had had articles accepted for publication; the evidence demonstrated the value of the workshop. Now it is an annual event and I have presented similar programmes in the U.K. and Malaysia.

Setting up my Academic Writing Blog
The inspiration to set up an academic writing blog came from one of my workshops. Initially, I saw the blog as a way for librarians to dialogue around writing. However, it transpired there was little communication of that nature, so I decided to focus on developing the blog as a resource for librarians who wished to write for publication.

Structure of Academic Writing Librarian

Most of the posts are details of publishing and presenting opportunities. This includes calls for papers, book chapters, book reviewers, and conference and seminar presentations. Initially, I posted quite a lot of detail, then I realised that short posts, with a link to the publisher’s more detailed information, work better for the reader and are more time efficient for me. I also post information about awards and bursaries. These are frequently for conference attendance. After publishing a post, I tweet the post and it appears simultaneously on my Facebook page. Sometimes, I post information telling about the publishing success of past workshop participants. Hopefully this will motivate people to keep writing, even when it is challenging.

Resources Section
The section of the blog with the most hits is the Academic Writing Resources page. This page links to articles on academic writing I’ve written and PowerPoint presentations I’ve delivered. I’ve deliberately restricted this to my own work or work I co-authored; the range of articles/resources for academic writing is so vast that it would be too time consuming to try to include much of this. In any case, given the audience, they should have no difficulty finding more resources.

In the resources section, I have also included a bibliography of books, articles and some websites on writing for publication. This is not restricted to librarianship. General titles on academic writing such as Murray’s “Writing for Academic Journals” and Kitchin and Fuller’s “The Academic’s Guide to Publishing” are really useful regardless across the disciplines.

In addition to being useful to those aspiring to write, the bibliography is useful for collection
development. I’ve had positive feedback and suggestions from outside the library world.

Top Tips Sections
Through working with librarians as academic writers for a number of years, I’ve received lots of informal feedback on what works for them in terms of writing. I developed two new sections for the blog in 2013; Top Tips from Published Authors and Top Tips from Journal Editors.The published authors are primarily people who have attended the workshop and gone on to publish. In approximately 250 words, they give tips ranging from time management to dealing with the peer review process. I approached a number of library journal editors and asked them to write a piece of a similar length, from the editor’s perspective. These tips frequently reinforce the journal guidelines and also offer additional insights. The presence of a photograph of the editor can convey a sense of the editor as a real person who can be approached with suggestions. There is a nice variety in the tips from the editors; this gives an insight into why it is so important to write with a particular journal in
mind, rather than writing a piece then trying to place it.

Currently, Academic Writing Librarian has about 5,000 hits per month. While the blog is international in its scope it has an Irish flavour. In the same way, I’ve noticed that Cory Seeman’s blog A Library Writer’s Blog has a strong US flavour.

Writing a blog has been a really good experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about blogs and
other social media through the process. I don’t post every day and I mostly use the blog as a way of alerting people to publishing/presenting opportunities and providing links to academic writing resources. The blog has never been a substitute for the face-to-face workshops I run. Hopefully it compliments them.

Anyone wishing to post a call for articles, chapters etc. to Academic Writing Librarian should e-mail me at helen.b.fallon[at]nuim.ie. If you want to write a short piece for either “Top Tips from Published Authors” or “Top Tips from Journal Editors” please e-mail me.

Kitchin, R. & Fuller, D. (2005). The Academic’s Guide to Publishing. London: Sage. Murray, R. (2013). Writing for Academic Journals. 3rd Press/ McGraw-Hill Education.

1 comment:

  1. Helen, enjoyed this post. I attended one of your workshops in 2012 - you gave me very good advice for paper I was working on. Of course your advice was correct and when I finally followed it, I got the paper written and published. I also refer young academics starting out to your Academic Writing Resources page and they find it most useful in helping them to begin writing for publication. And finally, I have to say that the work you do with your blog - and your workshops - is invaluable and essential to the LIS sector in Ireland. You have encouraged so many of us to actually write and to actually publish.