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Posts by Charlotte

Five Years Already!

Five years already!  ProjectScrib was created in 2012, and I started posting interviews with academics on “How I Write” in January 2013.  Earlier this week I posted our 25th interview (an interview with Hari Tsoukas).  When we started this blog, we were still new to academia, pre-tenure, not entirely sure about what we were doing, prepping courses and teaching, writing and submitting papers to journals, sometimes successfully, often not.  So much stress!  So much emotion!  I look back and wonder, “Where did all that energy came from?” I did get tenure in the end – yeay!  That was two years ago.  It was such an enormous relief.  At the time I thought, “This is what ultra-marathoners must feel like when they cross the finish line.”

In retrospect, there is no question that the stories posted here were a big part of what kept me going throughout the tenure process. Anytime I hit a rough patch, it was always a relief and deeply encouraging to hear that even seasoned academics, who have been doing this work 15, 20, 25 years, still struggle, still get angry or frustrated with reviewers and still get their papers rejected.  And yet, they persevere.  It gave me the confidence to believe in myself – in this field, it is too easy to question your abilities, your ideas, even your career choice when things are not going as well as you’d like.  When you get rejected on a third round review. When your teachings evaluations tank.  To know that others have gone through the same thing, to recognize that it isn’t “me”, but the system, or the “game” as some like to call it.  Because it is a kind of game: the game of science.  When I’m frustrated, I call it “the criticism game” and when I’m feeling somewhat more generous, I call it “the convincing game” (because ultimately, this is what we do – we seek to convince a group of very smart and very skeptical others about something we think, or have found).  There are rules, some of which are explicit, others less so.  There is skill involved, which you need to learn and hone.  There is craft, and creativity.  And there’s also, let us not forget, nor underestimate it… luck.  Because luck plays out in this process as well.  Sometimes, having a great idea, sound methods, great data, a cool story, an intriguing insight doesn’t cut it.  It could be that you’re ahead of the curve, or your timing is off (the journal just published three articles on this topic the month before), or you land on three reviewers who don’t like your topic, or your approach, or they are just in a crappy mood because they got rejected the day before and are not feeling particularly generous right now, thank you very much.  Sh@!# happens.  And because of this, you have to persevere, persevere, persevere.  Or as Hari said it:  never give up.  It will come together in the end.  But remember also – as a great many of the authors featured here have mentioned – to have the courage and the stamina to do this, you have to LOVE your topic.  And I mean really love it.  Because you will never find the energy to persevere when the going gets tough if you don’t.

What else have I learned?  In addition to inspiration, these interviews also provided me with a wellspring of ideas on how I could be more productive about writing.  Whenever I’d get stuck, often without even realizing it, I’d think, “This is what Steve does” or “This is what Martha would do” or “This is how Paula deals with that”. Ideas, tricks, and strategies that I might have never come up with on my own – all kinds of ways of getting yourself out of a rut.  Learning all of this by trial and error would have taken forever.  I won’t elaborate on these here, as I’ve already done so in an article I wrote which was published in the Journal of Management Inquiry in 2016.  So do check it out if you want to find out more!  (full reference is below).

A few people have asked me how I’ve gone about pulling these interviews together – how and why I chose the people featured here, how different the edited versions are from the verbatims, and so on.  As I’ve already indicated in our “about” section (see About here), there is little (if any!) science to my sampling method.  It is wholly, and entirely opportunistic.  I’ve interviewed people who have visited at HEC Montreal, people I’ve met, people I’ve been introduced to, people who are friends and even co-authors.  I’ve interviewed people early in their careers (relatively speaking) and people on the cusp of retirement.  I’ve interviewed qualitative and quantitative scholars (although with a noted and rather clear bias towards the former!).  I’ve interviewed both men and women (although as of today, this has not turned out to be as balanced as I would like – 9 women and 16 men).

In terms of editing, here too the process is also somewhat improvised.  As a starting point, all the interviews are recorded and transcribed – what you are reading on the blog is an edited version of the verbatim transcript.  As these can easily run to 30 pages or more, they obviously need to be pared back.  I usually aim for 8-12 pages for the final, edited transcript.  How do I edit?  It’s a good question, and I don’t have a straightforward answer.  I suppose it is a bit like giving someone a haircut.  You get a sense of the final, overall style you are looking for and you start to trim.  A bit here, and bit there, and a little bit more over there.  I’ll will reword certain passages, cut and paste bits and pieces and bring them together to keep things fluid (informal conversations do tend to jump around a lot), but in doing this I always try my best to stay “true” to the spirit of what people are saying. I also try to tease out what I think are novel insights, so that each interview comes across as somewhat different and unique from the others already posted online.  It takes several hours to edit an interview – and I’ll usually re-read and revise the transcript a few times before I send it back to my interviewees.  This partly explains why I don’t post them all that often!  All interviewees receive a copy of their verbatim transcript alongside the edited version, and are offered the opportunity to edit it as they see fit.  I’ve been lucky in that all the people who have participated in this initiative to date have seemed quite happy with the end result, and any editing they have suggested has been minor – a clarification here, a typo there.  They do not get to read their introduction ahead of time, this is always a surprise!  They read it at the same time as everyone else, after the interview has been posted online.

And that’s about it!  Will I be doing more interviews in future?  A few more, I expect.  But at 25 and counting, I think I am getting quite close to saturation.  Some have asked for more interviews with quantitative scholars, and have suggested I do an analysis to see if and how qualitative and quantitative scholars might differ in the way they write.  Others have suggested I focus on different angles – interviewing co-authors independently on a well-known article, interviewing an emerging scholar about their first publication, interviewing editors specifically on their editorial experience.  A topic I’ve become quite interested in of late is in the visual representation of qualitative data.  So there is certainly any number of ways forward.  I have yet to make up my mind on which path to take.  In the meantime, please enjoy the material that is already on the site.  Twenty-five individuals took the time out of their very busy schedules to offer their stories and insights – hard earned! – so that others may avoid common pitfalls and learn a bit quicker, in what is becoming quite a competitive field. I cannot thank them enough for their time.  If you’d like to offer ideas, suggestions or comments – please email me:  charlotte.cloutier@hec.ca. .

I wish all of you who follow this blog the best of luck as you take your own personal projects and journeys forward!

REFERENCE:

Cloutier, Charlotte. 2016. How I Write: An Inquiry Into the Writing Practices of Academics. Journal of Management Inquiry, 25(1): 69-84.

From our friends at PhD Comics:

PhD Comics - Writing Godgif

Never give up: An interview with Hari Tsoukas

Hari Tsoukas

Hari Tsoukas

Columbia Ship Management Professor of Strategic Management, University of Cyprus and Distinguished Research Environment Professor of Organization Studies, Warwick Business School

What can I say about Hari?  First off, I should say that I loved this interview. It’s so… well… Hari.  It comes at you from the side, a bit unexpectedly.  It is profoundly philosophical, but that is perhaps to be expected, given who we’re talking about.  It reminds us of why we do this.  It is grounded, and yet aspirational.  It is real, but perhaps also a bit unreal (Oh my! Look at this! Here I am unwittingly finding myself using Hari’s conjunctive theorizing to try and explain my sense of this interview and the man behind it!  How did he do that?!?).  This interview gives a fresh perspective, a new way to look and think about organizations. Perhaps it will inspire you to pull down one of those philosophy books sitting on your bookshelf… you know, the one you’ve been “meaning to read” since… forever.  Who knows? It may very well trigger that “ah-ha!” you’ve been so desperately waiting for, as you struggle yet again to try and figure out what your next “contribution” will be.

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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: An Interview with Linda Putnam

Linda Putham

Linda Putnam 

Distinguished Research Professor, Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

This interview was conducted some time ago when Linda came to visit us at HEC in Montreal.  Linda is one of those people we all love to have as friend: kind, enthusiastic and funny. The life of the party. It was such a pleasure to have her, and we hope she comes again! One of the reasons it took me so long to edit this interview was its length: we talked and talked, about stuff related to writing, to research, to teaching, to politics, to life in general. Time just flew by! Linda is such a delightful conversationalist, she made me feel as if we’d been friends forever. She had me completely under her spell. I expect that when she interviews people, they tell her everything.  But not to worry:  we’ve spared you the small talk. What follows is the condensed and edited version of our conversation – filled to the brim with interesting thoughts and ideas, for you to borrow and use as you please.

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Filling space in a beautiful Way: An interview with Ann Cunliffe

Anne CunliffeAnn Cunliffe, Professor of Organization Studies, FGV-EAESP, Sao Paulo, Brazil

When Ann visited HEC and we sat down for this interview, I must admit that I was not very familiar with her writing.  I was however quite familiar with her writing style.  Indeed, while I had read only one of her papers – Managers as Practical Authors – which had been required reading in one of my PhD courses, talk among PhD students and others about her unconventional writing style was frequent.  Such discussions tended to follow a familiar arc.  They would often start with someone asking, “How did Karl Weick ever get away with publishing his Mann Gulch paper in ASQ?”  To which someone else might answer, “Well you know (emphasis on “you know”), it’s Karl Weick,” this said with a tone of deference only academic groupies in social psychology or organization theory might get, and with the implication that the rest of us ordinary scholars were stuck with the IMRAD template.  Then someone would say, “Well, Ann Cunliffe has also managed to publish unconventional stuff in pretty good journals” which gave some of us hope that we were not doomed to reproduce the excruciatingly dry writing we struggled so hard to read as newbies to the field, at least not forever or all of the time. Funny how we forget.  Occasionally, a student will comment on how tiresome they find reading in-text citations – I used to think that as well, until I got used to them. The quest for efficiency in scientific production has brought us to this – straightjacket formats, limited pages, lots and lots of tables.  These are practical, no doubt, but oh-so-boring to read (no wonder speed reading has become such a useful academic skill). The idea of an academic article that is savoured, that is so engaging to read you cannot put it down until you are done is nonsensical almost, a joke.  But why is this so?  Why is it that good science cannot go hand-in-hand with writing that is engaging and fun to read?  In this light, it is rather refreshing to talk to someone who, for her entire career, has deliberately pursued a different path and who, despite the risks, succeeded at making a name for herself. It gives hope and inspiration to the rest of us.

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Build yourself a network of people that you trust: An interview with Beth Bechky

Beth Bechky

Beth A. Bechky, Jacob B. Melnick Term Professor, Professor of Management and Organizations and Professor of Sociology; NYU Stern

Apologies for this long silence!  It has been an eventful year, time was tight and sadly, try as I may, I was not able to post new interviews on the site for a long while.  But I’m thrilled to be back with this great interview with Beth Bechky.  I first met Beth back in 2009 at an AOM annual meeting.  At the time, I was a freshly minted PhD graduate, attending the very popular “Being There/Being Them” ethnography PDW (Professional Development Workshop) at the meeting and it happened that I was assigned to Beth’s table.  I was experimenting with video-ethnography at the time and was fishing for ideas.  Beth could not have been more helpful and encouraging.  In fact, to this date, Beth stands out as one of the friendliest and most genuine persons I came across as a graduate student, a time where most of us are very much under the radar. She’s generously gave time for this no-nonsense interview – read it, I’m sure you’ll learn a lot!

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Find your question: An interview with Mike Pratt

Mike PrattMike Pratt
O’Connor Family Professor
Phd Director, Management and Organization Department
Boston College
Carroll School of Management

I first asked Mike whether he’d be open to doing an interview for the blog almost two years ago.  It was hard to nail a time, but we finally managed it when I found out, quite by coincidence, that we would both be in London (UK) at the same time (for totally different reasons!).  Mike was a bit jet-lagged, as he’d landed at Heathrow that very morning, but you can’t tell that from the transcript. Mike’s a practical guy, and this comes through quite clearly in the interview.  How to write with others, how to manage your pipeline, how to approach the review process – no nonsense, practical stuff. No wonder he’s as productive as he is!  I need to change my ways… perhaps I’ll start by installing a whiteboard in my office.

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What is this a case of? An interview with Jerry Davis

DavisGerald

Interview with Jerry Davis
Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management
Professor of Sociology
Co-Director, ICOS (Interdisciplinary Committee on Organization Studies)
University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business      

Tim Pollock is the one who suggested that I interview Jerry Davis.  Tim and I had been talking about the fact that most of my interviews for Project Scrib had been with qualitative researchers (Tim and Danny Miller being two exceptions). Tim had asked me whether I had noticed any significant differences between the way qualitative and quantitative researchers wrote, and I said that based on my super limited sample of two, I hadn’t noticed anything significant. Tim suggested I should interview more quant scholars and I said, “Sure, where do I start?” to which Tim replied “Jerry.” Some months later I happened to attend a small conference at which Jerry had been one of the keynotes.  I thought, “It’s now or never.”  I joined the throng that surrounded him after his talk, waiting for a chance to make my pitch. And to my great surprise (and relief!), he immediately said, “Yes, I’d love to!”  We met at AOM in Vancouver, on the lovely outdoor terrace of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Jerry went for something healthy, and I for something much less healthy, namely a very strong expresso. Funny thing – despite having done hundreds of interviews at this stage of my career, and some twenty for the blog, I’m still nervous each time I go in:  Will I connect with this person?  Will they be comfortable enough to share interesting tidbits with me rather than platitudes?  But none of that should have worried me in this case.  Jerry was super enthusiastic, and totally engaged in the process.  He has the most incredible energy!  He is passionate about his work, and it is totally infectious.  I left the interview all geared up, thinking, “I can write a book, maybe two… I’ll start right now…”

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Shop your ideas early: An interview with Roy Suddaby

Roy Suddaby2

Interview with Roy Suddaby
Professor and Winspear Chair
Peter B. Gustavson School of Business
University of Victoria

I had heard a lot about Roy prior to interviewing him, but had never had the chance to meet him (at least not properly) prior to our interview. I was quite keen to do so though as in 2014, at an Academy PDW (Professional Development Workshop) on writing for the Academy of Management Review (at which Roy was editor for several years) Roy mentioned something rather unusual for an academic: he suggested that academics could improve their writing by taking inspiration from other genres. And the genre that he thought was potentially the most generative was… screenwriting! (And here I was thinking, really?? how far away from academic writing can you get?). He suggested that we all read a classic in this genre, namely Syd Field’s book “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting,” first published in 1979.  Needless to say, I wanted to find out more about what he meant by this, and so was thrilled when I learned that he would be giving a talk at HEC.  Here was my chance! Sadly though (and not entirely surprisingly – any interviewer will tell you that this has happened to them before), we got to talking about so many interesting things, including researcher identity and John Steinbeck as a source of inspiration, that I totally forgot to bring it up! Such it is… perhaps another time!

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And what if we “thought differently” about academic writing?

In large measure, academic writing is two-dimensional and, short of the odd figure here and there, composed almost exclusively of text. Add to that the fact that academic writing is highly formalized – think IMRAD – and what you end up with is hardly any room to maneuver when it comes to creatively sharing the results of our research. What you also end up with are texts that, for the most part are – dare I say it? – extremely boring to read. But what if we thought differently about academic writing? More and more academics are reading journal articles on their tablets and Ipads (some even on their phones!). I think it’s been two years now since I’ve actually printed up a journal article to read. Before long, this will probably be the norm across academia. We might deplore this innovation and long for the printed page, but at the same time, can we not see in this trend an opportunity? A way to better communicate our findings to our readers – in ways that are more evocative, memorable, and… transparent? Technology now allows us to do this, but academic journals (and their readers!) have been slow in incorporating what new technologies make possible.

Recently, I wrote an article on academic writing based on the interviews featured on this blog (see here:  How I Write). In the original version of the accepted article, and with the encouragement of Journal of Management Inquiry editor Nelson Phillips, I attached live hyperlinks to each quote featured in the text so that readers could access (if they wished) the original transcript from which a quote had been extracted, bringing a new level of transparency to my work. Readers could judge for themselves whether a quote was taken out of context, or they could come to their own conclusions about how “accurate” they judged my interpretation of these accounts to be. Of course, offering up my analysis and interpretations in this way put me in a vulnerable position, but it also provided a potentially interesting forum for reflection, debate and deeper thinking about a subject. Think of all the discussion and debate that has taken place in the wake of Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” partly fueled by his rendering the data upon which he based his analysis and arguments openly accessible (see here Piketty – DATA1 and Piketty – DATA2). Such debate is exactly what science is all about, and we need to seek and support ways in which to encourage it. I recognize that for confidentiality purposes, such a high degree of technology-enabled transparency is not always practical nor desirable – but these concerns notwithstanding, can we not make at least some room within our publication outlets for more novel ways of presenting our data?

In looking for ideas in this regard, we can turn (once again!) to what the innovators in new media communication have been experimenting with. In this, I refer to authors and publishers of long-form journalism. Our readers will recall that it was interviews with renowned long-form journalists that sparked the idea for this blog (see here: Project Scrib – About and here: The New New Journalism). And here again, we turn to them for inspiration. What might our work look like if we could let readers not only read about, but also get a feel for – thanks to visuals and sound – the empirical settings we study? What if we could truly “show” and not just “tell” readers about our data?

If you wish to get a sense of what is possible, check this story out: Tunnel Creek. And if you wish to experiment with this form of writing, there are tools available to do so:
Atavist.

Sadly, despite our efforts (mine and Nelson’s), my article was published without the hyperlinks, which I think is unfortunate. Perhaps next time!

Many thanks to Katharina Dittrich, a friend and colleague who is based at the University of Zurich for pointing me in the direction of several of these links.

Accounting for words: An interview with Richard Whittington

Richard Whittington

Interview with Richard Whittington
Professor of Strategic Management, Saïd Business School, and Millman Fellow in Management at New College, Oxford University

It was my good fortune to be Richard’s post-doctoral student in 2009-2010. I had applied a strategy as practice lens to my dissertation work, and here I was, working with THE guy whose work was critical to building the field itself. I viewed it as such a privilege. I was also a little bit in awe, feeling rather intimidated and out of place amongst the many Oxford over-achievers I met while living there (my flat neighbor was a concert pianist AND a prize-winning math PhD guy who did advanced geometry calculations to figure out how to get a new sofa through the very narrow entrance of our building). Perhaps because of this, it never occurred to me to ask him about his writing habits.  I was probably too worried that I’d be discovered for being the imposter that I felt I was (doesn’t she know how to do this already?). Fortunately (mostly for me, I expect!), we’ve stayed on good terms since (we are still working on a joint project) and when Richard visited in Montreal last Fall, I figured it was time to remedy this oversight. I like this interview as it goes into a bit more depth about the genesis of ideas by showing how our ideas are so often connected to our experiences, beliefs and the circumstances we find ourselves in. We also discover that while he is a self-proclaimed “word accountant,” Richard is a keen supporter of a bit more daring and creativity in the way we write. Read on to find out more!

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