How to write a co-authored paper: A primer

Top ten ways to work things through when writing joint articles (based on ongoing experiences, from which I have learnt a lot):

10. Working with someone can be a benefit or not. Yes, this is tip no. 10. It has to be obscure and fairly useless.

9. It can be a benefit if your co-author's name is known in the field, so presumably the article or paper will be published. This, for a struggling postgrad, can only be good. Think of all the professors out there who don't want to write articles with you (and breathe a sigh of relief at that) while you want to use the nearest blunt object on your co-author/run amok with red ink over what's already written*. Think of having your name in print. And then think whether what your name will be attached to is in any way yours after all the revisions it goes through. Decide (and this is my view) that you don't care much since it's your name in print!. Make "Name in Print" your mantra. Recite it daily and repeat if necessary.

8. It won't be a benefit if your voice (and writing) is likely to disappear among the morass of details or swallowed up by the other person's writings. If, like me, you are a fairly "simplistic" writer, this can be a problem because it means the joint paper might not reflect much of your point of view. Or, even, your argument. See no. 9 for reasons why leaving things like points of view, standpoint, methodological stance, arguments behind while writing a paper with a BigNameScholar is probably the best idea if you want to retain any hair (tearing yours out is not recommended; tearing your co-writer's out might be an obstacle to publication and to your career).

If writing with a colleague or a mate, no. 9 can be easily avoided by setting guidelines. I suggest any disagreements be resolved over copious amounts of alcohol with the last person standing getting to keep their point of view on paper. Or, to be serious for a change, try talking things through. This might not lead to agreement but could lead to new pathways and different ways of seeing things. Ask E and I at some point for an update on this Tip since we are writing a paper together and, considering how different we are, it could be far worse than it actually is (so far). It still has to be revised for a BigNameConference soon so I might gain more lessons from the process (and E might tear her/my hair out. Wait and see).

7. Be wary of the term "accessible". Accessible, while a worthy goal for people like Anderson Cooper and those writing the "baseball" entry on Wikipedia, is probably not recommended for an IR article. You want your writing to be rather obscure and full of jargon, if possible.**

6. Realise there is loads of work involved and that you have to do it. The Revision process which seems to go on for months and involve cutting out most of what has already been written--by you-- and adding more of what is to be written (by you, again) is a killer. If doing that over the summer, divide up the work into small manageable chunks and intersperse this with frequent trips to the grocery store for staple foods such as ice-cream, beer(s) and chips.***

5. If told to do things you don't agree with, put your foot (feet) down firmly but politely. Tell your co-author that the question of why X happened is not answerable (in your view and using the approach you have been using) but that how X happened and what happened when X was decribed in such a way is what you are interested in. This may well not work, but try anyway. There's no point in giving up all authorship in the process.

4. Use metaphors about the "Dark Side of X" or "What is Hidden" without once referring to Star Wars or Harry Potter (and the mirror of Erised. Really, the whole metaphor for joint paper-writing should be the mirror of Erised****)

3. Try frame your point of view in a way that shows you know what you are on about. Drop names of scholars, quote chapters (since page numbers are probably beyond you) and list books when making your argument. Of course, your co-author can respond by quoting other people but at least he/she should be aware that your stance is a valid and sustainable one.*****

Since the paper partly reflects (or should) your views, be confident about this at least. Think of yourself as a German footy player taking a penalty. Remember how they have missed only one out of their last 18 penalties in major competitions. Become German.

2. Don't assume the paper-writing will be a short process. It won't be. There will be additions, revisions, and so on. It will take months. Try do other tasks around the paper so that it doesn't take up all of your time. This might be easier said than done and I have not yet tried it myself. Wait and read on later in the summer for updates.

1. Remember the mantra: Name in Print. Also, keep in mind that it's a good opportunity and that you will (hopefully) manage to get some of your points across through the paper. If not, it's still NIP and that's not to be scoffed at. It's not like chances to co-write papers fall into your laps daily. Or, if they do, then let PTSD know how that happens so we can get in on the act too.

Finally, a bonus "waste not, want not" tip: try to use the parts of your writing that were not used for this paper for another (solo) paper. This way you will not start thinking that, all that time you spent reading the writings of dead white folks (or, alive white though almost dead folks), you could have been doing something far more useful to society. I'm not sure what but something: building houses or (wo)manning soup kitchens or something. Before using the unused writings,inform your co-author of this so that he/she is aware of what you plan to do with what you wrote.

* In case you are wondering, red ink or even correction is not recommended. In terms of subject positioning, if your education was (gasp!) not American, you are likely to be tarred with the "oh, those Colonials, they don't teach proper grammar/spelling" brush. Make sure your Wordprocessing thingy is set to American English (which, as yous know, is a breed of its own) and that it works. This is rather important since, really, there's not much you can do to change habits of over two decades. I've tried.

** If writing by yourself, I would recommend writing how you write best and are most comfortable with and leaving jargon and obscure words to others. Let's face it, if you learnt English as a third (or, as the term is these days "other") language, you will recall knowing from classes involving "look up 'oppression' in the thesaurus" and finding out that there really were seven different ways to say it. In other words, use a good thesaurus to do your dirty work, if you must, but personally I like the keep things simple plan.

*** Disclaimer: PTSD does not promote unhealty eating. Anything you eat is your responsibility and should be carefully vetted by you. In fact, PTSD recommends walking to and from Uni (and saving the train fare). This also allows plenty of time to think on things. Thinking is an activity that comes highly recommended from (almost all) great scholars.

**** Now that I think about it, I could probably make an argument for that. After all, isn't the whole point of the Mirror of Erised (and I'd re-read it to make sure but since LilSis2 took all my Harry Potter books to LilSis1 in New Zealand, I can't) that we can't understand/conceptualise about what lies beneath/under/behind and even to try do so will suck us into some scary situation?

***** Keep trying if you don't succeed. Think of Robert Bruce and the spider. Or, the English and the World Cup. If you fail, convince yourself that you deserved to succeed/were doing really well but were hard done by. This works only if you're pretending to be the English football team.


At 7/05/2006 10:43 AM, Anonymous serena said...

LOL those darn englishmen! LOL

Sounds like you are having a fun summer thus far!

At 7/05/2006 11:44 AM, Blogger Priya said...

Absolutely. We should meet up in RL some time during it though--E and you have both disappeared :-)

At 7/05/2006 2:27 PM, Anonymous serena said...

You have also disappeared except for virtually...LOL

At 7/05/2006 6:19 PM, Blogger Priya said...

True--I feel we should all meet up in RL and play pub trivia and beat all and sundry some day soon. I feel very competitive for some odd reason.

At 7/06/2006 10:19 AM, Anonymous serena said...

too much footy for you...all that gridiron competition and sweaty men full of testosterone (SP?)

At 7/06/2006 7:30 PM, Blogger Priya said...

Heh. I've never seen an American football match though I've seen plenty of rugby ones. Talking of rugby, this weekend is FULL of sports with the two WC matches and then a Rugby one (through dodgy 'net feed) to watch :-)


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