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  Sunday, October 03, 2004

  Blogging and paper writing

People may think that I'm blog addict when I talk about my blogging experiences. Wouldn't judge the addiction part, but I can't be not enthusiastic if I have experiences like those of last few days...

Last week I had a crazy idea of finishing a paper earlier than expected... 

It was pretty close to the deadline, so I wasn't sure if I can ask someone at work...  I could see booked schedules, but it was also about cultural norms - you don't pop up with a request to do something on a short notice in a Dutch "plan everything ages in advance" culture and you don't ask people who think about work-life balance differently from you to review something on Friday afternoon (which, of course, ended up to be a Friday evening :)

It was also about the state of the paper. I had lots of discussions with colleagues (should ask if they want their names here :) on the earlier versions of the paper and was in a middle of reworking it... What I needed most on Friday was a "fresh eye" view on it as well as English check :)

So after hesitating a bit I ended up asking for help in my PhD crisis post (which probably made it more dramatic as the crisis has not much to do with the paper :)

I didn't expect to receive so much support... For me it was more than offers to review the paper, but more of emotional "hang in there" that make going though difficult times much easier... So, thanks a lot for all who reacted!

I've got more review offers than needed, so I didn't ask everyone and ended up working with Collin Brooke, Lloyd Davis, Mark Rendeiro and Matt Mower (guys, thanks again!).  It came to be a really interesting experience of review-rework cycles over the weekend, so I'd like to share some reflections...

Collaborative editing (or tools to support review-rework)

Using Word's "track comments" feature is most usual way to work on a paper with others. Of course, it doesn't work well when a paper is edited by several people at the same time as you end up with three different commented versions.

I thought about wikis in this context, but don't think that this is a particularly good solution:

  • There is a need for an easy way to see changes in the text and deal with them.
  • Wikis assume equal rights of all contributors, while this is not the case in a paper writing. Usually there is someone more "in control" than others: it's about "author-reviewers" or "first author-coauthors" relations. For example, in a case of coauthoring using Word it's easy to find out who is the first author is - the one who accepts/rejects changes :)

So I wonder if you know some good tools (or better practices of using existing tools).

Closer look at language

This time I realised how rewarding a review by native speakers could be... Many comments made me thinking about ways I use English, English as it should be, as well as making my ideas more crisp. In some case my use of strange language constructions is an attempt to articulate specific side of an idea, but unless someone pays attention to the strange language construction I do not see other sides of it.

I also got more convinced about the value of learning while doing authentic tasks. Last year I took a course on academic writing with lots of exercises of English use in all kinds of cases. And, of course, I have books that supposed to help me with all kinds of rules.

Still, these things couldn't compare with going through the paper and comments with Matt on Skype - discussing use of rules in specific contexts, different ways of using familiar words, subtle differences and hard to explain cases of "not sure why it is like that but it should be like that" (btw, native speakers, there could be a business model behind it next to a good feeling of helping someone :)


My paper is pretty loaded with my "empowering individual" values and, as one could expect, my reviewers seem to share these values too (bloggers are quite distinctive crowd). As sharing values doesn't mean sharing opinions this worked well: since I was able to receive comments on my arguments without questioning the value of this work. But thinking about it left me wondering how well it will do with someone from another camp :)

More on: blogs in research PhD 

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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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