Editing multi-authored academic publications: sharing experiences

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Many doctoral writers publish their research as articles in special issues of journals, as chapters in book collections of essays, or as contributions to academic blogs. In this post we explore a little of the background work by editors that goes into producing those publications. Understanding the editor’s perspective can provide valuable insights into research writing. For editors, these projects can be satisfying, complex, frustrating, enriching and everything in between.

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Best use of exemplars for doctoral writing

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By Douglas Eacersall and Cristy Bartlett, with Susan Carter

It’s common that as supervisors and advisors we tell doctoral candidates to get online and look at other theses—any theses that can be found online are successful and available for students to get ideas for how to write their own. This post comes from Douglas and Cristy who took the time in their institution to build a library of full thesis proposals, those documents that candidates need to satisfy first year review and confirm their registration in the doctoral programme. They described their work in a DoctoralWriting Conversation in which they also discussed their book chapter on preparing students for candidature review – Confirmation of candidature: An autoethnographic reflection from the dual identities of student and research administrator.

To some extent, that is another story, and at the end of this post, there is a little more on how to gather examples of that quite covert genre, the full thesis proposal. What this post focuses on, though, is the advice that can be given to doctoral candidates so that they make effective use of exemplars of any item of doctoral writing.

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It’s easy to get interested in the research described in completed theses, so that attention wanders away from the task of learning from them about doctoral writing per se. We think candidates could be reminded that they are workers upskilling in research expertise—the expertise of writing and persuading a discourse community that you belong within it. I was going to write that use of exemplars is part of apprenticeship training, but I haven’t because it is something that I still do as an experienced academic, for example, when wanting to see if a particular journal might accept my work. Maybe it is best to simply say that exemplar use can be helpful and a means to guide our practice and learning at any stage of the research journey.  As such the content below can be used to inform not only doctoral writing but research writing more broadly, beyond the doctorate.

Using exemplars to guide your work

Exemplars can be a useful way to understand the expectations and quality required for assessment (Bell, Mladenovic, and Price 2013). Doctoral writing exemplars show possible approaches and are never the definitive answer for a particular research project. There are many ways to fulfil the requirements of doctoral writing. Exemplars provide general and specific examples, both of which can be used to inform the research project and approaches to doctoral writing.  The points below may assist with this.  

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You may not find an exact match for your research topic or discipline area, nevertheless exemplars from a different topic or discipline can still be useful. 

Look for general approaches in the exemplar that can inform your specific approach. This could include:

  • Overall structuring– What headings and subheadings are used? Approximately how many items are in the reference list? What proportion of text is given to the common headings in research and doctoral writing , introducing the topic, establishing a gap in knowledge, contextualizing the study in other literature, explaining and defending methods and theory, describing findings, discussing their meaning and wrapping the work up with a conclusion? Could the exemplar structure be used for your writing?
  • The research gap and likely original contribution – how does the exemplar convince you as a reader that the research project is worthwhile? What sort of literature review shows that there is a gap, and that it matters significantly that it should be filled?
  • Literature review – How is the literature review structured? How is the literature discussed? Can you find specific concrete examples of when the author demonstrates their critical analysis of the literature they review? Can you see how literature is used to justify the author’s methods, approaches, and attitudes? Once you have noticed the kind of language used for this important work, can you translate it into your own study? Could this approach work for your literature review?
  • Methodology – Although many research projects have different topics, they all need to describe methods and justify them with a methodology. How good is the exemplar at describing the methods and analysis? How do they draw on previous studies to do this? How do they defend their choices within the methodology? How much theory drives analysis or underpins the study? What elements does the methodology section cover? How are the elements of the methodology section discussed? Can this approach inform the methodology you plan to use in your project?
  • Findings – How is clarity achieved in reporting findings? Any useful phrases that are used in the writing?
  • Discussion – How does the author orient their research within the discipline? How do they make the meaning of their findings clearly visible? Are there rhetorical strategies for showing the significance of findings?
  • Conclusion – It can be really difficult writing a good conclusion, summing up the project strongly. How does this example foreground the significance of the study? How do they describe limitations without making their own work seem worthless?
  • Tone and style—is this flat, concrete language or opaque, theoretical language? Or does tone shift over different parts of the writing? Is it pleasurable or hard to read? Would you want to cultivate a similar voice or a very different one?

Douglas and Cristy recognised the benefit of having a library of full proposals, and found that supervisors and doctoral candidates within their institution were generally willing to add to this collection, creating a valuable resource for first year candidates wondering what such a document should look like. They talked about this project and you can find a summary of this in the DoctoralWriting conversations.

There may be more to add to this pedagogical approach—there’s some research, mostly based on using exemplars for teaching English as an additional language (e.g., Smyth & Carless, 2021) that insists that the use of exemplars needs to be managed. If research on teaching by using exemplars interests you, you could check out To, Panadero & Carless’s (2021) systematic review.

Now, we expect that doctoral candidates, who are survivors within academia, should be fine with exemplars and a check-list prompt of what to look for, but we think the addition of a workshop would give the opportunity to explicitly point out strengths and weaknesses of the exemplars. But maybe we are wrong on that…If you use exemplars for your own writing or as a learning tool for your students, we would like to hear about it, so please leave a comment. Douglas and Cristy are also happy to discuss the ins and outs of setting up an exemplar database at your institution.

References 

Bell, A., Mladenovic, R., & Price, M. (2013). Students’ perceptions of the usefulness of marking guides, grade descriptors and annotated exemplars. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(7), 393-406. doi:10.1080/02602938.2012.714738

Smyth, P. & Carless, D. Theorising how teachers manage the use of exemplars: Towards mediated learning from exemplars. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(3), 769-788, doi: 10.1080/02602938.2020.1781785

To, J., Panadero, E. & Carless, D. (2021). A systematic review of the educational uses and effects of exemplars. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, doi: doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2021.2011134

Co-authoring a PhD by publication: assigning percentages to who did what

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By Cally Guerin (with a lot of help from her friends Claire Aitchison & Susan Carter)

The thesis by publication (or article-based thesis) is becoming a common format in many disciplines and in many countries. While there are many advantages to writing up doctoral research (see on this blog, for example, Kalypso Filippou and Cally Guerin), this process does introduce some challenges of its own. One particularly difficult task is the expectation in many universities that any co-authored papers submitted for examination need to include a very clear indication of how much of the work was done by each author.

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Showing critical analysis, right from the full proposal

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Susan Carter

This post comes from talk at a digital writing retreat recently where I provided advice about things that were troubling the distance doctoral writers who attended. These writers were at different stages of their theses, from those in their first year worried about preparing their full thesis proposal to one who was about to submit and working on final revisions.

At our institution, the first year review is tantamount to confirmation of candidature. It’s a big deal, with quite critical review. Of course, submission is an even bigger deal. I ended up presenting something of a manifesto to doctoral writers – a culmination of my current thinking about doctoral writing. Here’s the advice I offered.

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Start with people. Just people, not academic rigour and pedantry because those aspects of doctoral writing can fill you with anxiety. Writing is a social negotiation. Who are you talking to? What do readers need? How do you need to convince them? What expectations regarding deference, dominance, obligation and work will they have? Who does the work, to what degree of perfection, and who decides what is good enough?

None of this is unusual—we know this all the time, we do this all the time. In every household, in every job, in every friendship we work these things out. Usually, we do it unconsciously—we’re social animals and we have antennae that alert us to what the social expectations are and how far we can go with breaking rules and getting away with it.

What is unusual, what we don’t know instinctively, is the academic expectations of the writing of fully fledged researchers within the academic community, including how we “demonstrate critical analysis.”

“Critical” in “critical analysis” is not the same as critical in “She was critical of his language”. Critical analysis means thinking carefully. That careful thinking is what you want to demonstrate in doctoral writing for both your provisional year review and your final thesis submission.

In academic writing, we need to see that:

  • You know what you are talking about;
  • You are careful to say things accurately;
  • You are respectful of other research, but assume your own research is equal to theirs and importantly, yours is central;
  • You respect your reader, providing what they need to know, avoiding clutter in your writing, and avoiding repetition;  
  • When you cite literature, you never behave as though you expect the reader to go and read what you are citing so that they can follow you—you always make it clear for them in your sentences;
  • You use the language of your discipline and research niche to show you fit in here;
  • You expect to have to defend everything you do because academia is pretty tough.

Full proposal

Research writing is public not personal, so presenting a full thesis proposal is like coming out at a debutante ball: you make an entry that is significant, watched, judged. (I’ve never been a debutante – and you probably haven’t either – but you may, like me, have read fiction about this weird formal ritual.)

At our institution the full thesis proposal is evaluated by two academics who are not the candidate’s supervisors and this provides a safety net for the project going forward. So, what are full proposal reviewers judging? That the writer will not waste years of their life on a project that has obvious weaknesses, mismatches, is too skimpy or too bulky, too unimportant to be worth the effort, or too hugely important to complete within three to four years. 

Here’s a check list for the full thesis proposal. Writers could read through their proposals imagining that they were the over-burdened academics charged with checking for viability.

  • A full proposal shows that the project is viable: the topic is weighty enough to earn a doctorate without being too big to accomplish.
  • The proposal identifies a gap in knowledge or understanding by reviewing the literature convincingly and critically.
  • Research questions are accurately expressed, clearly showing how the project will fill the gap.
  • Methods are carefully described with benefits and any limitations, showing this project can be finished and answer the research questions within three years.
  • The time-line looks doable and creates a sense of a candidate who thinks about practicalities.
  • Theory matches research questions and methods. The writing style and use of terms fits the discipline’s epistemology. You situate yourself as someone who can handle theory but who is also very pragmatic and realistic about the work.
  • Literacy and competence in formal English language is demonstrated, with the understanding that this continues to improve over the next two to three years.

All of the above is more about people than about pedantry, in my view. In this case it is about people as readers with needs and expectation. Please comment if you have other ways of making the demonstration of critical analysis in doctoral writing seem like normal social behaviour.

He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Maori proverb

Postgraduate Supervision Conference, Stellenbosch, March 16-18, 2022

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By Cally Guerin

The 8th Postgraduate Supervision Conference (PGS) was run fully online for the first time in March this year. It’s the first full conference I’ve attended since the pandemic began and it was such a joy to be in the ‘presence’ of other people researching doctoral education – I didn’t realise quite how much I’ve been missing this company! The program had lots of familiar names and faces, as well as many researchers whose work is new to me.

The Stellenbosch conference draws participants from across the globe and facilitates discussions that focus on some of the big issues facing doctoral education at present. Continue reading

Discussion chapters: writing feedback and revision

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By Judy Parr and Susan Carter

Judy Parr is a Professor of Education in the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Highly effective, much esteemed, and generous with her time, Judy has been a mentor and model for Susan who is delighted to bring a combined post to you.

This post assembles some general advice for the writing, feedback and revision of a doctoral Discussion chapter. It’s a very important part of the thesis that needs to conceptualise and position what has been done in the doctoral study within the wider discourse.

This post has been prompted, as is often the case with DoctoralWriting posts, by practice: recently, we have been giving feedback on Discussion chapters both together and separately (and we acknowledge others we supervise with – we draw from their tips and strategies too).

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