The Study Dude – How to Write a Lot

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to hurriedly suck up to your professor for a coveted research assistantship?one of your own making.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s focus is on light, friendly read titled How To Write A Lot by Paul J. Silvia, Ph.D.

Excuses Be Gone! Ridding of the Reasons Not to Write
Not to undermine the philosophy presented by Dr. Silvia, but I read another book that slated writing for five-minute stints is a goldmine practice. Yes, hovering over the desk for a five minute writing stint bleeds into a ten-minute writing stint which inevitably gushes into a four hour festive first draft. Well, I might be overstating the reality slightly, but you get the picture.

Writing well comes from discipline, to which Paul Silvia is no stranger. Here is a basket of tips on how to write lots from Dr. Silvia:
– Make a schedule–and stick to it. Treat your writing time as if it were a teaching session?a commitment with no room for reneging.
– Start your writing commitment to four hours a week, choosing whichever time of the day suits most floats your boat.
– People who express an inability to commit to a schedule should consider all of the activities they attend to daily without fail, such as watching a favourite television program or going to sleep at a set time. No excuses exist for not sticking to your schedule.
– Disable internet and isolate yourself for the full scheduled writing stint.
– Don’t let others dissuade you from your writing objective at your schedule time.
– Write during unscheduled times as well. The more writing time you invest, the merrier.
– If you need to read additional articles or attend to other matters pertinent to your writing success, do so during the scheduled writing time.
– It doesn’t matter how rickety your office environment seems, any kind of office space, including a washroom, pose as rooms ripe for writing.
– Waiting to be inspired to write is a futile strategy. Consider how far that strategy has taken you so far. The inspiration strategy takes you thousands of typed letters less further than writing on a schedule: “people who wrote ’when they felt like it’ were barely more productive than people told not to write at all” (p. 24).

Graduate Student? Zero in on Priorities
Some personalities flourish with structures, deadline, and routines. I’m one of those personalities. Other people rebel against any formal structure imposed on them. Yet, both personality styles, and the continuum in between, maintain high potential for success as academic writers and students.

To backtrack, in graduate studies, I was so banal when it came to routines that I slotted every half hour on my schedule with a particular task. While this practice appeared to be detail-oriented, the imposed structure failed to materialize with the heavy responsibility I faced as a graduate student. Such twisters require heavy assessment of priorities.

Despite all this complaining, Paul J. Silvia has some amazing tips for cementing your priorities, including the implementation of an SPSS (statistical package) software program for recording your every moment writing. If recording every minutia of your writing schedule on that software sounds scary, you are probably not a rule-oriented, structure-bound individual. If recording details excites you, you probably should consider either accounting or reading Paul J. Silvia’s graduate student priority tips:
– Of course, you should prioritize assignments that contain an imposed deadline.
– If your writing time is insufficient, then bolster your time commitment by one or more hours per week.
– Prioritize the completion of your thesis. If you commit to your writing schedule, chances have it that you will draft material ready for publication in a journal. Prolific writers stick to schedules.
– Writing book reviews and publishing for magazines stand as secondary priorities, but priorities nonetheless.
– Delve headlong into books on writing or teaching, just to hone your mastery of these crafts.
– Ask your professor if he or she has any writing assignments that you could assist with completing.
– Create an SPSS statistical table that includes the days of the week, the hours or minutes you spent writing (or the number of words written), the project worked on, etc. Run statistics on your file, such as the mean number of words written each month.

Every Writing Manual’s Prize: Tips for Brilliant Writing
In undergraduate studies, I entered the university as a blank slate. As an adult learner, deciphering the code of how to write at a university level baffled me. My education on writing sorely relied on a mere grammar book, which managed to leverage my grades in the A’s once the momentum kicked in. Yet, at the graduate level, I was stupefied by how academics write like pros. My thesis supervisor advised me to take the summer off before launching into graduate studies, as she deemed rest vital, yet, overhanging me lurked the reality that undergraduate level writing was insufficient for the challenges that await ahead.

Paul J. Silvia comes armed with strategies for improving your writing through simple tweaks:
– When doing research on subjects, don’t describe them as “subjects” or “participants”. Make a connection with the human beings you conduct research with by allotting them titles such as “older adults” or “teenage females.”
– Avoid the use of abbreviations on simple words. Whatever you do, don’t use the dumbfounding abbreviation “ANX” to substitute for the simple word “anxiety.”
– Don’t use the following extraneous words: ” very, quite, basically, actually, virtually, extremely, remarkably, completely, at all” (p. 64), and so forth. They add little to your writing expression.
– If you use parallel structure, don’t shy away from using repetition as repetition adds clarity. If you say, “People in the control situation demonstrated such-and-such behaviour while people in the special group demonstrated such-and-such behaviour”, it comes across clearer than saying “People in the control situation demonstrated such-and-such behaviour while there were demonstrations of such-and-such variation over time in the special group.”
– Use semicolons, dashes, en dashes, and em dashes. An en dash is to signify that parent?child doesn’t mean a parent who is also a child. An em dash, which is slightly longer than a dash, signifies that it is a parent to child relationship.
– Don’t ever use the words “such that”. Replace “such that” with a colon or an em dash.
– Every time you use a variant of the word “to be”, circle each incidence and change 1/3rd or more of them to livelier verbs without the “is”.
– Every time you use the word “not”, change it up by replacing it with “miss” or some other punchy verb.
– Avoid words ending in ’ive” to simpler verbs. For example, “to be indicative of” sounds better as “to indicate.”
– Don’t put “however”, “therefore”, and so forth at the beginning of a sentence. Couch them, moreover, at the next opportunity.

So You Long to Publish a Book?
I couldn’t resist adding this final piece from Silvia’s book. If you yearn to publish a book as an academic, realize that academic book publishers are sparse and in high demand. Yes, seek out an academic publisher at your next conference. Silvia states “They’re better dressed than the professors and graduate students, and they’re standing next to big tables containing lots of books” (p. 119). So edge your way over the bookstand, introduce yourself, and land a publishing contract.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Silvia, Paul J, PhD. (2007). How to Write a Lot. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.