Later this week I have been invited to share ideas with colleagues on how to get started with pedagogic writing. Amongst busy schedules it’s always going to be challenging to find time and head space for this activity, but with organisation, motivation, a degree of ruthless prioritisation and a jolly good dose of confidence, I would hope it can be widely achieved. In an effort to pull together some tips to share on how to get started, I have reflected on what has worked for me and for close colleagues. So … here are my tips so far. Others of course will have different approaches, and I’d be grateful to hear any other strategies to pass on.
- Set out the story you have to share, with context … but be clear what others can learn from your account too … Comparing data sets, for example, may be interesting – but ask the ‘so what?’ question … what value is there in sharing this material.
- Be clear what the message is and who would it be useful or interesting to. This is not necessarily the same as choosing a journal, but consider whether your ‘story’ is relevant for lecturers (within or beyond your institution), lecturers outside of your institution, university managers or technologists for example. Having a sense of audience will assist in finding a voice or tone for the work.
- Write in building blocks … break down the task of writing in to steps – it’s far less daunting e.g. 3000 words (intro + context + literature + methods + findings/discussion + conclusion and recommendations). Celebrate each stage as it emerges. This comes down to rehearsing the mindset of ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ … ‘One bite at a time’.
- Sometimes, just write and work out where it might fit afterwards, don’t get hung up on targeting specific journals at the stage of first draft unless you are more experienced, or have a very specific aim for your work. A first full draft can then be fashioned for different outlets as needed.
- Try just writing for yourself and then edit it through or work it up in to a more substantial or polished piece at a later point; a blog article, or set of good notes can often emerge in to a paper. Sharing informal writing can help to locate the parts of the work or story that resonate with a potential audience; sharing can help to refine the focus.
- Consider when to write. I write best in blocks of time fully blocked out. Others may make good progress on snack writing around existing commitments. When I can’t block out time, I use the ‘reverse to do list technique’ ….
- Prioritise writing. Consider reversing the order of your to do list and do the things that are optional (like writing) before the stuff that has to be done (like admin tasks). The tasks on the ‘must do’ list are often routine and this is where efficiencies can be made to free up creative time.
- Try to avoid distractions, particularly phones and email.
- Be clear why it is important to write around learning and teaching – this can give greater urgency and priority to the task. Reasons include wanting to capture and share lessons learnt, developing practice through pausing for thought, empathising with students by maintaining my own scholarship, career development and for enjoyment.
- Avoid being fearful and have a go! Unfortunately working towards getting published can be a scary business, but over the years, with one or two exceptions, I have found those involved in pedagogic publications to be supportive, generous and personable. Perhaps talk to those who act as reviewers and get insights in to the process.
- Shadow a reviewer of a pedagogic journal to attune your own internal expectations of what is involved in writing, and to demystify the review process.
- When you have a story /a plan/first draft, think through where you may try to publish your work. Consider magazines, institutional trainer journals, online only publications, as well as established journals. Talk with others to find possible outlets for publication rather than just searching alone. Personal recommendation can be very helpful.
- Pair up with a critical friend, but ensure that they can give you honest feedback. I recall being on the phone to a trusted colleague and feeling partially destroyed by lots of feedback, but the advise given was spot on and made a massive difference. Choose you advisors but then be prepared to listen without giving up!
- Use tools to refine your writing – my personal favourite is the writer’s diet which helps to identify some of the limitations in text. Again, it’s frustrating to know that work needs further attention, but the emerging writing is always better as a result.
- Use social media to identify emerging trends, issues and new works in your field. Manage this closely though so that it doesn’t become a distraction and try to avoid comparing yourself to career researchers.
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