Interview with Jennifer Howard-Grenville
Associate professor of Management
University of Oregon
I had the good fortune of meeting Jen at an Oikos conference in 2011. The conference took place in that lovely part of Switzerland known as Appenzell. Included in the program were half-day hikes in the mountains (amazing!) and it was on one of those hikes that Jen and I started talking. We discovered then that we had a lot in common and we’ve been talking and bumping into each other pretty regularly ever since. I view this as a real privilege.
On my post about the genesis of this blog, and in particular on this series of interviews on how academics write, I mentioned that one of my goals was to obtain interviews from writers at different stages of your typical academic career. So my idea was that over time, our roster of interviews would include early career researchers, mid-career researchers and researchers with 30+ years of writing under their belts. Jen fits that middle category, where several years of hard, slogging work have begun to reap big dividends, and you’ve (finally! some might add) got the wind blowing in your sails. The work doesn’t get any easier, as several of the people interviewed on this blog have mentioned. But at least now you know what you’re doing, and you know how to keep things in perspective. Jen is at that stage where those early years are not so far behind her that she’s forgotten what it’s like, but she’s also gained a lot of experience such that she now has a clear sense of what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive environment that academic publishing has become – experience that she is articulate about, and very happy to share with others. This is a thoughtful, clear, and very insightful interview. I hope you learn as much from it as I did.
Here are a few links I found interesting in the last few weeks. Do leave a comment if you have any thoughts on what these links present!
» What is paragraph re-planning?
I found this article via Twitter, directing to the Writing For Research site (highly recommended, by the way!). In fact, I saw it circulate many times before I actually clicked on the link to find out what “paragraph re-planning” meant. The first times I saw this mentioned, I’ll admit that wasn’t that interested, given its slightly boring title. But when I noticed that this link was tweeted and retweeted again and again, I grew curious. Don’t fall in the same trap as I did, and do not wait to go read about this strategy, also called reverse outlining. I have not tried it yet, but I plan to do so soon. This approach sounds relevant to avoid what can happen when you work on long texts: that the front-end and back-end of the paper are not well aligned and drift apart, or that the focus of your paper gets lost.
» A primer on the Pomodoro technique
You’ve heard about the famous Pomodoro technique, but are not quite sure what it is and how to use it? Follow this link, and all your questions will be answered! I’ve tried this approach, which is built on blocks of 20, 25 or 30 minutes of focused work, and it has its merits. I’ve found particularly useful when I felt stuck with a text, as a way to get going. Read more
Interview with Stephen R. Barley
School of Engineering
Every field in the academic world has its roster of celebrities, and if anyone fits that bill in organization studies, it’s Steve Barley. I doubt there is anyone in our field who has NOT read something that Steve wrote – evidence of how frequently cited his collected works are. And if that weren’t enough fame for one person, in a 2006 survey of the Academy of Management Journal’s editorial board on “interesting management research,” Steve’s 1986 article on CT scanners “Technology as an Occasion for Structuring” came out on top, alongside Jane Dutton and Janet Dukerich’s study of the New York Port Authority. There is no question that for the vast majority of us, Steve is a tough act to follow. When I found out that he would be visiting HEC, I hesitated before asking whether he’d agree to be interviewed for this blog, as I thought he’d turn me down! And although he can certainly be pretty direct about his opinions (during his visit, he claimed that there was no such thing as “auto-ethnography” which sparked considerable debate among the ethnographers in our midst!), we discovered that Steve is also a super friendly, down to earth and very approachable kind of guy. He was all graciousness about the interview. So here you have it: Steve on his writing habits, on reviewers who ask him to read his own work, and on the publishing process not getting any easier. I hope you enjoy it.
First published in 2007.
This book comes up a lot, in various fora for academics looking for ways to improve their productivity. A few months ago I decided to buy it. First observation: this is a short book. You can read through it in one sitting (and that sitting need not be very long). I must say that I was little put off when I received it – is this it? I thought. There is that to be said about ordering books online – you can browse through some of the contents (“Look Inside!” on Amazon) but you can’t get a feel for the size, shape and feel of a book. How bulky or fat it is, how thin the pages are, how stiff the spine is or how tight the writing. So when this book arrived, thin, with thick pages and sparse writing, I was a tad put off. But I did want to review it for the blog, so I sat myself down to read it anyway (astonishing how we academics can sit ourselves down to read anything, no matter how boring). But boring this book is not.
Written by an academic psychologist, this book blends straightforward and practical advice, with touches of humor laced throughout which makes it fun to read. Although primarily targeted at writers who do psychological research, a big chunk of Paul Silvia’s tell-it-like-it-is advice can be directed at academic writers in general. Here are a few of my own takeaways: Read more
Interview with Davide Ravasi
Professor of Management
Cass Business School
City University London
It is one thing to interview acquaintances and strangers, it is quite another to interview your friends. This particular interview was a bit weird because Davide and I have been friends for quite a number of years now. When we did the interview my impression was that our conversation sounded stilted and contrived. Here are things that we have discussed at length on multiple occasions. Davide is part of that inner circle of academic friends to whom I’ll send my drafts for friendly reviews and who will not waste time with niceties or hesitate even one second before tearing apart every sentence. I remember him telling me once, “You mustn’t give anything to your reviewers that they might grip onto to criticize you. Nothing. Keep it totally smooth and to the point.” And this on the revision of a paper I rewrote I don’t know how many times and in which he still found something to fault. As frustrating as these interactions were (and I admit there have been times when I questioned whether he was truly a friend or not!) I learned a tremendous amount, and I can’t deny that my writing in general has improved as a result. We all need a circle of friends who are willing to be brutally honest with us. We gain resilience from it (something we need a lot of in this field) and our writing gets better. I decided to interview Davide so that others can benefit from the very good advice he’s given me over the years. As a lot of this advice has come to me via his harsh readings of my papers, at least you get to benefit without the criticism that usually goes along with it!!
Detail of a painting by Nina Sten-Knudsen (2001), at the CBS library – seen when I visited it in January 2014.
Interview with Paula Jarzabkowski
Professor Strategic Management
Cass Business School
City University London
I’ve known Paula for quite some years now and she never ceases to impress me. I recall a visit to Aston some years ago where she and Jane Lê, with whom she’s collaborated over the years and who is now at the University of Sydney, showed me how they organized the data they had collected for a big study they were doing at the time. They had these endless, cross-referenced Excel files in which they had rigorously documented every meeting, every note, and every interview by date, by theme, by research site and by God knows what else. I was a PhD student at the time and I came back from that meeting thinking that I really needed to up my game if I was to come anywhere close to that level of rigour in my own research. Paula is also very devoted to her graduate students, working very hard to ensure that they all do well throughout their studies and beyond. So in those and many other ways, Paula has been quite an inspiration. And last, but far from least, Paula is easily one of the most productive people I know. How she does it is completely beyond me. I thought that through our interview I might be able to figure out where her magic comes from, but really, there doesn’t seem to be any. As you will see for yourself, it’s the same for Paula as for the rest of us. You just have to keep at it!
Interview with Bob Hinings
Professor, University of Alberta
Here is a delightful interview with someone who is not only supremely charming, he also happens to have quite a few years of very successful writing tucked under his belt. Bob has visited HEC Montreal on a couple of occasions (he was even awarded an honorary doctorate from us!), and on one of those, agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Unfortunately, I was not in town at the time, so my colleague, friend and fellow blogger Viviane, agreed to do the interview. It was then my job to edit through the twenty odd pages of verbatim transcript to give you this little gem of insights. Enjoy.
Advice that can easily inspire how I approach my own writing practice! Maybe I should print it and tape it to my wall…
via swissmiss & Brain Pickings
Helen Sword is the author of a book on academic writing, Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard Press, 2012), and she recently gave a talk on this topic. She starts from an observation that many of us share: academic writing is rarely stylish – and by stylish, she not only means elegant, but also engaging and effective. In fact, she describes writing – especially research journal writing – as “wooden and dry” (at best) or “spongy and soggy”. In her talk, based on research she has conducted, she describes what stylish writers do.
If her conclusions may come as no surprise to anyone who has read on writing, it’s always good to be reminded of them. For example, stylish academic writers are deeply concerned with communicating complex ideas in a clear way, they find pleasure in crafting their text, and they display creativity in their work. It’s also interesting to hear her on the reasons why so much of academic writing is bad (let’s not be afraid of the word!). Helen Sword suggests that many academics feel that they need to impress other academics with their writing… and that they are ruled by conventions and fear. Instead, she invites us to strive for elegant and personal writing that serves to illuminate our topics of inquiry and to push the boundaries of knowledge. So here’s her talk:
Information on her book can be found here: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674064485