The workshop covered themes of general interest to academics, such as research ethics and abstract writing. It also included more concentrated discussions on writing samples that participants had submitted in advance, in breakout groups of three to five people. I would like to comment here on three aspects of the workshop that stood out for me.
First, the workshop drew specific attention to each element of the writing process. It encouraged us to think carefully not just about the central argument, but also about the title, abstract, keywords, introduction, opening sentence and the academic prose. One presenter gave particularly valuable advice on using ‘macro-edits’ to paragraphs and ‘micro-edits’ to sentences. This would mean first checking if our paragraphs are organised such that each of them is making a distinct point, and only one point. The next step would entail ensuring that each sentence within the paragraph is similarly making an independent point. Certainly, different writers will have unique writing styles and strategies. But the workshop encouraged me to be more conscious about each stage of the writing process. My tendency has been to feel quite victorious after I discover what my hypothesis is, and then feel surprised by how much time it still takes me to write the piece out. I now realise that this is to be expected. Having something to say is only a necessary first step.
Second, the interdisciplinary nature of the event allowed for a sharper focus on writing style over content. While I had heard critiques of academic obscurantism before, having my work reviewed by persons from multiple different disciplines really pushed me to make my writing more accessible, and free it of unnecessary jargon. It got me thinking about the value of having academic work reviewed by colleagues in different departments – not as a substitute for substantive peer review, but as an exercise in introducing complicated concepts more simply and clearly.
Third, it was refreshing and important to hear a frank discussion about rejection in academia. Rejection was presented not as a failure, but as a fact of academic life. The popular myth that negative responses are necessarily about ‘not being good enough’ was quickly discarded. Instead, we discussed a multitude of reasons for why we might be turned away by institutions, such as a journal not being a good ‘fit’ for the article we submit, or a department requiring different expertise from what we have been developing. This conversation reinforced the importance of being mindful of the profile of the journals, publishers or institutions we approach as early career researchers. More generally, it encouraged us to develop a thicker skin and explore what the most productive responses to unfavourable outcomes might be. In the past, my reflex has been to sink into imposter syndrome when faced with rejection. Following the workshop, I will aim to develop a healthier relationship with rejection.
I am thankful to the organisers of this event for their commitment and diligence during the past few months. I would also like to acknowledge the dedication of the academic mentors and participants who made this workshop such a fruitful one. Finally, I am grateful to the Centre for Criminology (Oxford) and the Murray Speight Research Fund for their generous financial support, which enabled my participation in this event.