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LibParlor Contributor Reflection Series

Jumping Into Academic Writing and Presenting

LibParlor Contributor, Rachel Miles, gives readers some tips for getting started with academic writing and presenting.

Rachel Miles is a Digital Scholarship Librarian at the Center for the Advancement of Digital Scholarship (CADS) at Kansas State University and is K-State Libraries’ Partner on the Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative. She holds a BA in Psychology from Wichita State University and an MLS from Emporia State University. In her free time, she loves to hang out and play music with her husband. She also loves to write fiction, sew, and attend dance

The field of scholarly communication can be perplexing for academics, librarians, and the public. Often, scholarly communication librarians are expected to have both technical skills and public engagement skills. The truth is that the scholarly publication lifecycle is complex, and a mix of skill sets is often needed. This post will give a brief overview of the field of research impact (a sub-field of scholarly communication) and then give tips on how others can overcome their anxieties and self doubts when presenting and writing academic works.

When I first mapped the liaison areas during a GRA project at Emporia State University, I visualized how disciplines connect to one another. At the time, though I was unaware, I completed a mapping exercise similar to what the experts, usually called bibliometricians, do with citation data to visualize networks of academic disciplines. See the images below for an example of citation network analysis and my pushpin board academic liaison visualization.

Citation network of academic fields in Web of Science. Image © Nees Jan van Eck, included here under the fair use doctrine (Section 107).

G:\My Drive\ALTMETRICS RESEARCH TEAM SHARED DOCS\Presentations and publications\2015 KLA-MLA Joint Conference Oct 2015\Rachel's board.JPG
Liaison areas mapped on a pushpin board, based on data from a 2015 study of academic librarians’ awareness and usage of research impact indicators. Image by Rachel Miles, CC0.

The combination of my work in research impact and my new practice as a Digital Scholarship Librarian allowed me to jump head-first into the realm of academia and scholarly communication. Part of being an academic librarian reaches beyond the practices of librarianship; it also entails academic presenting and writing.

Conference Presentations

“You know your stuff; don’t forget that.”

The first time I presented a full presentation at a conference was at the 2015 Joint Missouri Library Association/Kansas Library Association Conference in Kansas City, MO. Dr. Sarah Sutton and I presented on the preliminary results from the survey research we had begun a few months previously. It was a nerve-wracking experience for me at the time.

Over the next year, Dr. Sutton, Stacy Konkiel, and I would present at six national conferences collectively or individually. It got easier with more practice, and I can say that besides the normal nervousness associated with any project, I rarely feel the type of anxiety I used to feel. I have presented on my research and on my professional projects at several national conferences over the past three years.

Here are my tips for those who are new to presenting at conferences:

  • Being nervous is okay and normal.
    • Preparing can help! Everyone is different in how they deal with nervousness. For instance, research has shown that introverts typically need to do more planning and preparation to feel more confident before presenting. Try practicing your presentation or even singing a favorite song before you present.
    • Remember to smile! Smiling will trick your brain into feeling happiness and confidence, even if your brain is telling you the opposite. It also helps the audience connect to you.
    • Meditate a few minutes before or the day before the presentation. Meditation is not as abstract, foreign, or complicated as many people assume. There are many ways to meditate, and some techniques work better for certain people. Check out the many benefits and types of meditations.
  • Presenting is about national and international colleagues learning from you, but it’s also about you learning from them.
    • I have learned from audience participants! Ultimately, conferences are about learning from colleagues, collaborating, learning, and making connections.
  • Questions from the audience can be scary, but it’s really energizing when you start talking about your research or projects.
  • You know your stuff; don’t forget that. I’ve immersed myself in my research for over three years, but my brain comes up with the most unrealistic scenarios concerning what individuals will say about my work, e.g., it’s sloppy because of XYZ. This is a symptom of Imposter Syndrome, and after you talk about your work with others, you will soon realize that you are doing something different and unique, and you are the expert! Even if you are questioned in a negative light, this is not automatically a bad sign. Stand your ground and talk through the question. You will probably be surprised at your response and eloquence.

Academic Publications

I think that writing is actually more daunting than presenting. You are sitting behind a computer, alone, focused on writing, editing, and researching. There are no audience members. So, what’s the big deal?

For starters, academic publications usually go through rigorous peer review. And, let’s face it, writing is just plain hard. Structuring a paper in a way that readers can easily follow your thoughts while also demonstrating your in-depth knowledge on a subject is a balancing act.

I am still learning how to be an academic writer. I will always be learning how to produce polished work and overcome my shortcomings as a writer. Peer review is not a tool to intimidate you as a researcher and writer; rather, it is a tool to improve your writing.

Here are my tips on academic writing and publishing:

  • Listen and learn. You may want to curl into a ball and cry when you receive reviews, edits, and comments from your colleagues, but try not to let it get to you. Use their suggestions to learn and grow. It’s not a reflection on your character as an academic; it’s a reflection on the current state of your writing. You will always be learning from this.
  • Practice in more ways than one. Rather than tackling the same article over and over again, take breaks and work on other types of writing. You may write fiction. You may write formal reports for work. You will get reviews in more ways than one, and it will relate back to your academic writing.
  • Take a break. I just mentioned this, and I’m mentioning it again, because it’s SO important. I often stepped away from my recently published journal article for a month or more and returned to it with more energy and ideas. At times, I also cut huge chunks out of it.
  • Take your time. It’s okay to spend a long time on one piece of writing that is really important to you and/or your career. I’m a “quality over quantity” person (i.e., I think one well-written journal article is better than ten average or repetitive publications.)
  • If you are experiencing writer’s block, just start writing anyway. I know this sounds counter-intuitive and perhaps impossible, but trust me. After you force yourself to write, it will start to come more naturally. The stream of consciousness can be deleted and/or revised later.
  • Speak written sentences and/or paragraphs aloud, especially ones that are long and convoluted. This will help when you are editing as well.
  • Writing is organic and it will change as you change as a writer and an academic.

I will always be learning and evolving as a scholar and a professional, and often, the more frustrated I become, the harder it is to learn. I have had to learn to keep my cool. I have had to learn to understand that research is a long and tedious process, but it is not without its rewards.

I believe that perspective is everything. If you shift your perspective from viewing your academic presenting and writing as a permanent mark of your worth as a professional librarian to a perspective in which you view presenting and writing as skills to be molded and adapted, you will flourish. You cannot be the best in your field from day one, but you are the best you can be at this point in your career.

Acknowledgement: Both Dr. Sarah Sutton and Stacy Konkiel are credited in both these posts for helping me to become a researcher, a scholarly author, a professional academic librarian, and an expert in research impact indicators. Without them and this initial boost, I do not think that my career would have gone in this unique direction. I will always be indebted to them for their patience, their mentorship, their collaboration, and their collegiality.

Featured image by Andrew Sharples on Unsplash, adapted by Rachel Miles

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4 comments on “Jumping Into Academic Writing and Presenting

  1. Rachel,

    I really liked this post. I, too was at the MLA/KLA conference (although I don’t believe I was at your session) and thought it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to. I’ve presented twice at the Missouri Library Association conference and agree whole-heartedly to your advice on presenting.

    While I’m not (yet?) in a tenure-track academic library position, I feel like I eventually need to publish, just the same. My trouble is that I have no clue what to write about. I can barely come up with a topic for my blog, much less a formal librarian publication. What is your advice, if any, for finding topics?

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      Thanks for your comment! I think that when it comes to publishing, it really depends on the type of work you’re already doing or interested in. Can I ask what you presented on at MLA? Sometimes what we present on can lead to papers that can provide more context and research. Also, sometimes perusing the literature on a certain topic can help you create your own research questions, but I would recommend seeking out at least one research partner if you do embark on a research project, which usually leads to conference presentations and publications. It is definitely a long process though, but well worth it in the end! What field of academic librarianship are you in or interested in? I would also encourage you to go to conferences in those fields or to join interest groups within conferences. This really helps with networking, getting involved in a national level, presenting, and eventually publishing. Let me know if I can answer any other questions or help in another way. Best of luck to you!

  2. Hello Jeffrey,

    I apologize for the delayed response! I tried to respond to your post a few days ago, but somehow it never got published. It may be because I was in a remote area on my phone though.

    With respect to your questions, I think this really depends on what you want to do with your career and/or where your career is currently going. You mentioned that you have already presented at conferences before, and often, those presentations can be turned into more scholarly publications with some more research into those particular areas. Many publications in library land are based on experiences and projects completed within the library rather than actual research. Even if you decide to conduct research, I read once that most (~80%) library research is survey research, and my research definitely falls into that category. Conducting more experimental research in library science is certainly a challenge!

    First, I would suggest that you present more and/or use your previous presentations for publications. With national conferences, you are often required or encouraged to write a conference proceeding based on the presentation. Often, the publication will have much more context and supporting information or evidence. The article that I recently published was partly based on a presentation at ALA, and it took several months of writing, revising, and research before we submitted it to a journal. After it was submitted, it took almost a year to go through peer review and editorial work before it was published.

    If you are seriously interested in pursuing a research project, you may want to determine where your interests lie, what questions you want to answer, and first conduct some research to determine what research has already been done in the area. When I became involved with the research on the usage of research impact metrics, the survey had already been created and launched, so I was not involved in its initial creation. Stacy Konkiel decided to conduct the survey research because no survey of its kind had been completed before, at least not on a national scale. Stacy and others in the field often made assumptions about what academic librarians knew about research impact metrics and what they were doing with them, and she eventually realized that this was a question that had not been answered yet, at least not on a large-scale level where generalizations could be made about the academic library community. Thus, she decided to conduct her own survey research to find the answers.

    Also – I think it really depends on what field of academic librarianship you are in or want to get into. Scholarly communication is a field that has numerous research topics that deserve to be explored. It is a booming field in the academic library world, and there is much to be discovered. Of course, other fields still deserve research, especially in fields such as reference/user services where it is imperative to understand how and why the user seeks services, for example.

    I would be happy to talk with you more in email and/or the phone and/or Zoom. Just let me know if you’d like to chat more!


  3. Rachel,

    I just saw your responses. I’m happy to talk with anyone on this topic. My blog is on WordPress. That’s a good way to get a hold of me. I can arrange more private communication through there.


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