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The life of a productive scholarly author


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Highlights of a research examining the writing habits of 600 academic authors. Download the full results at

Published in: Education
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The life of a productive scholarly author

  1. 1. Over 2018, we conducted research into the productivity of academic authors. We wanted to learn more about what they wrote, how they wrote, what pressures & barriers they faced and how satisfied they were about their writing and publishing.
  2. 2. The research was led by Prolifiko, a services and training consultancy specialising in improving the productivity of academic & professional writers. The survey was co-designed with & analysed by: - Prof. Christine Tulley, Findlay University - Lettie Conrad, Scholarly Kitchen, DeepDyve - Deirdre Watchorn, De Gruyter
  3. 3. We found three turning points in an academic writing career. At each point, authors face similar challenges & barriers and have similar priorities. These stages indicate that an academic career progresses in anything but a linear fashion. For example….
  4. 4. We asked academics what they mostly write & publish. And the answers won’t be a great surprise. But what they write & publish and crucially, why they do it, changes over a career.
  5. 5. Understandably, theses and dissertations dominate the focus of early career scholars. They’re not yet writing journal articles, conference papers. But they will be soon…
  6. 6. At mid-career, work-related writing & publishing become the priority. Academics spend most of their time writing articles, conference papers and grant reports. But in late career, things change again…
  7. 7. Book writing becomes a priority – a type linked to high levels of satisfaction. As does journalism & blogging – perhaps linked to ‘thought leadership’. Article, conference report & grant report writing all decrease. Three types of writing linked to either neutral levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
  8. 8. We asked academics: Do you feel under pressure to write & publish more than you currently do?
  9. 9. Then we asked: Where does this pressure come from?
  10. 10. Which is interesting, but only becomes meaningful when we investigate how these pressures ebb and flow across a career. For example…
  11. 11. + Whilst internal pressure increases then decreases over a career. External pressure decreases then increases. Mid-career scholars experience high levels of internal pressure – a form linked to dissatisfaction. Whilst late-career scholars experience high levels of external pressure – this causes them little stress. They report the highest levels of happiness of their careers.
  12. 12. We asked academics what their main barriers to writing & publishing productivity are.
  13. 13. But again, these findings become richer when we examine how barriers change and are experienced differently across a career.
  14. 14. “Some days I feel physically sick at writing or reading anything that has to do with my PhD.” Early on, barriers are psychological and technical in nature. They suffer with low confidence, feelings of self- doubt & procrastination.
  15. 15. “The demands on my attention just swamp me. I get a huge volume of email. Then there’s all the student enquiries…” By mid-career, work pressures are kicking in. They struggle with time management, interruptions & work responsibilities.
  16. 16. “Oddly, I'm not sure why I write. I am tenured and fully promoted so it's not for that. I enjoy it, the craft of it. It's part of my job. I think the work is important.” By late-career, many of these pressures have fallen away. In fact, only two remain.
  17. 17. We asked academics how they made time for writing, whether they had a particular method and if so, what that was.
  18. 18. We asked: Do you write every day? Do you block out chunks of time across your week or month? Do you tend to write on holiday or on sabbatical? Or do you not consider you have any particular method? This was the result…
  19. 19. But digging into the data, we find that academics use different methods at different stages of their career. We also find that choice is impacted by a range of external factors & pressures.
  20. 20. Whilst ECRS use time- blocking & daily writing methods in equal proportion. As they approach mid- career, time-blocking becomes the favourite. We also found links between scheduling and other factors…
  21. 21. Satisfied? Productive? Daily writers: Time-blockers: Sabbatical writers:
  22. 22. On the surface, our overall results weren’t that surprising.
  23. 23. Early career 85% of early career researchers (ECRs) say they feel under pressure to write & publish more but over the course of a career… Late career High agreement Low agreement …this drops to 66%. … this rises to 40%. Just 29% of ECRs say they feel satisfied with their writing practice but over the course of a career…
  24. 24. So, pretty simple. The more experience you have the less pressure you feel and the more satisfied you are. But it’s not that simple. Digging into the data finds that there’s no simple trajectory. The picture is a lot more…
  25. 25. Messy.
  26. 26. We found examples of experienced scholars who were miserable & blocked & inexperienced academics who were happy & productive. “Writing can drop down your priority list. You lose confidence – you can lose your nerve. You’re sitting there writing and you’re thinking ‘why the hell would anyone want to read this? This isn’t important – this isn’t interesting….” Professor & honorary research fellow, 25 yrs experience, published over 200x.
  27. 27. We only found one thing that was linked to both productivity and satisfaction and that was whether they had developed some kind of personal productivity ‘system’ to help them write.
  28. 28. A ‘system’ is the combination of tactics, routines & behaviours an author uses to keep motivated and find the time to write. And when an author has one they are…
  29. 29. What does all this mean? Two things.
  30. 30. #1. That academic authors aren’t just ‘content producers’. They’re people with personal preferences, values & life goals who often write & publish for deeply personal reasons (not just to hit publishing targets) and get blocked or de-motivated for equally personal reasons. This in turn should impact how academic writers are incentivised, encouraged & supported.
  31. 31. 2. That productivity is personal (& can be learned). There is no one way to be productive as an academic author – there are many ways scholars can find a system that works for them personally and professionally Because there’s no fixed link between productivity, satisfaction, age or experience - effective habits can be learned by anyone. And that should give hope to the most blocked writer.
  32. 32. Want the full findings? Download for free at: