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I’m currently writing an article. Literally while I am typing these words I should be writing on my article, but I am getting distracted by something I haven’t tried before when it comes to structuring the work, and I can’t wait to share it with the readers of this blog. (Tangential Procrastination in full swing!)

The article is sort of last minute, but it is based on research that I have done a few months ago, and some of it is based on research I have done a few years ago. (Parts of it probably go back to my PhD thesis, so make that a bit more than a decade… scary.)

I am clearly in the writing up stage of this, I have a draft to work on, but I haven’t quite figured out the structure and order of the points I want to make. I have written my key words on post-it notes and gotten an overview that way. I have highlighted the key words in my text, which is very helpful when moving paragraphs around. Nothing new so far, surely storyboarding academic work in this way is common practice by now.

But now I have done something that I have never done before… I not only added section titles, but also little descriptions. Erich Kästner used to do this in his books, many of whom I grew up with. Chapters would start with a tiny little summary of what would happen in this chapter. I don’t think there were any spoilers, but it would set up the scene and add a bit of intrigue as what was to come. It was also very handy when re-reading the book and looking for your favourite bits. I didn’t quite go as far as paragraphs, but short, descriptive subtitles. And you know what? It seems to make the writing process much easier. By just reading these subtitles (which I put in bold and italics to make them easier to find) I can check whether I am still using the order planned out with my overview, or whether I need a reshuffle to make this flow as a story (I did). A small addition to my writing process, but incredibly useful – and it might just be a way to support my students with writing the dreaded argument/main body of the text section in their essays and reports!

Kästner kept his as part of his novels, I’m going to delete mine from the article, but just so that they won’t be lost forever, here they are:

  • Section One, in which the problematic of the textbook genre is introduced
  • Section Two, which contains musings on different types of knowledge and different types of teaching that go with them, introducing a focus on study skills
  • Section Three, in which we compare academic and creative practice – and come across hidden practices that need to be made visible
  • Section Four, in which I explain why the pedagogical model needed should use the workbook as delivery method.
  • Section Five, in which I explain analogies as a way of making hidden academic practice visible, and why this called for a picture book, but not a narrative.
  • Section Six, in which I discuss some design choices of Writing Essays by Pictures.
  • Section Seven, in which I sum up and highlight the need for learning resources to be designed according to pedagogical principles, not traditional templates.

and you can read the full, finished article here.

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Swanpool beach huts, Falmouth, Cornwall

NancysShed
‘Shed’ as metaphor for the draft article/paper (courtesy Nancy de Freitas)

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Coastline view from Pendennis Castle peninsula, Cornwall

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Concertina sketch books and reflective mind-map (Susan Ryland)

NancydeFreitas
Professor Nancy de Freitas, AUT University, New Zealand / Editor-in-Chief: Studies in Material Thinking international journal.

During the Falmouth Writing Retreat (12th – 14th July 2013) I had the privilege of working with Nancy de Freitas, whose enthusiasm and wealth of experience was inspirational.

My task for the weekend was to plan an article, titled: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Art, for a new international Journal of Cognitive Humanities. I had already written an abstract based on my presentation at the inaugural Cognitive Futures of the Humanities conference at Bangor University (UK) in April this year. The first task Nancy and I tackled was turning my abstract into a ‘working abstract’ that would provide a structure for my journal article. We spent time discussing what the central focus of the article would be. This was like running a magnifying glass over the material and choosing which area to enlarge and which parts to retain as background information. The process helped me see how I could shift my focus for different audiences. I liked Nancy’s idea of using ‘signals and signposts’ to provide a guiding structure for the article, such as images/diagrams, keywords, titles and subtitles. It was reassuring to know that it was ‘okay’ to use this approach and made me realised that I was still inhibited by the notion that there was a ‘right way’ to do academic writing.

For me, as a predominantly visual thinker (trained in Fine Art Painting/Printmaking) I find images seem to tap into my subconscious. So, as I was reflecting on the weekend’s events I saw connections between my concertina sketchbooks, Nancy’s metaphor of the cobbled-together ‘shed ’ of an article (the stage when you can invite others to comment on your draft version), and Alke’s metaphor of the academic ‘ocean’. As I stood on the jagged Cornish coastline at Pendennis castle, the pitched roofs of Swanpool beach huts came to mind, and I wondered if the Falmouth experience was about building a ‘beach hut’ (as a variation on the ‘shed’ idea) – a temporary shelter, a place where you can keep your essentials (but not your whole thesis!) and a place where you can look out over the (academic) ocean. The ‘beach hut’ article gets you ‘out there’ in the public domain but not overly exposed to extreme weather events (it’s just an article, not a book!).

So, while metaphorically sitting in my beach hut I can view the (academic) ocean, reflect on my research and art practice and do a bit of snack writing. Perfect!

Susan Ryland (University for the Creative Arts)