A Reflective Approach to Academic Writing
Throughout Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), November 2018, I posted short daily videos with reflection questions designed to spur deep thinking about the substance, structure, and significance of a writing project. I used these questions in my own daily writing practice throughout the month and shared my response to each question in the comments section. Watch the Day 0 video to hear about the writing project I used these questions for.
You can visit these questions anytime you’d like some extra support in clarifying what your project is really about and how best to communicate it to readers. Feel free to share your own reflections in the comments!
Reflection questions for scholars, researchers, & knowledge-builders
Each link will take you to a blog posts with a 2-3 minute video and a bulleted summary of the video contents. (Comments where participants shared responses during the series are no longer visible.)
Day 0: Diving In! How is your energy suggesting that you approach these reflection questions?
Day 1: Manifesto. If your project had a manifesto, what would it be?
Day 2: Conceptual Tool. What's one conceptual tool that's indispensable to your project, and how are you using it?
Day 3: Object of Affection. What is the object of affection at the center of your project?
Day 4: Perspective. How is your perspective on your subject completely unique?
Day 5: About. What is your project about?
Day 6: Closet Cleaning. What's one way you can bring more order to the material form of your project?
Day 7: Structure. What structural logic is organizing your manuscript?
Day 8: Inheritance. What's your inheritance, and how are you using it?
Day 9: Human Connection. How has a moment of human connection moved your project forward?
Day 10: Motto. What’s a motto or slogan you can use to reliably reconnect with your project?
Day 11: Explore. What’s an aspect of your subject you’ve been meaning to explore?
Day 12: Three Sentences. How can you distill your project into these three sentences?
Day 13: Micro-genre. What micro-genre are you writing in, and what information does this give you about your manuscript?
Day 14: Positionality. How does one of your identity categories inform what you're studying or how you're studying it?
Day 15: Scaffolding. How are you scaffolding your manuscript?
Day 16: Definition. What’s a key definition in your project, and how does this definition function in your argument?
Day 17: Material Change. How have the material conditions of your life changed as a result of studying your subject?
Day 18: Teaching. What can you teach about your subject today?
Day 19: Evolve. How can you evolve your working thesis today?
Day 20: Release. What is asking to be released from your project?
Day 21: Misfit. What if your manuscript’s misfit is actually your argument's through-line?
Day 22: Feedback. What insight can you find in a difficult piece of feedback you've received?
Day 23: Non-Audience. Who is NOT your audience?
Day 24: Action. How can you put your expertise into action today?
Day 25: Certainty. What do you know for sure about your subject?
Day 26: Roadmap. What is your roadmap telling you about your argument, or vice versa?
Day 27: Wildness. What in your project is wild, untamable, chaotic, or random?
Day 28: MVP. What is the MVP (minimum viable product) version of your manuscript?
Day 29: Bookends. How are your introduction and conclusion bookending your manuscript?
Day 30: Destination. Imagine your finished book or article in the space it will inhabit after you relinquish it.
Bonus: Forward. What are you carrying forward from this reflective writing exercise?
Why reflective writing questions?
While I think these reflection questions will be most useful to writers who already have a broad sense of what their project is about in relation to the literature, and who have already generated a lot of words, the questions can be used by any writer at any point in the writing and revising process.
What set this exercise apart from other approaches to #AcWriMo in that it was not about pursuing quantitative goals like writing a set number of words, writing for a set amount of time, or hitting a certain deadline. Those kinds of goals are important, especially when you’re in a phase of your project that you need to write a lot just to discover what you think, or you have a strong plan and outline for what you need to write. But ScholarShape AcWriMo2k18 was less about pursuing quantitative goals based on word quotas, time logs, and deadlines, and more about pursuing an intangible intention: making the kind of deep conceptual progress that is hard to measure and hard to brag about on Twitter, but indispensable to producing writing that will ultimately be powerful and compelling for the reader.
If you’re in a phase of your project where quantitative goals make sense, you can use these reflection questions as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, those goals. And no matter where you are and what you’re working on, I hope these questions will feel profoundly centering and energizing in the midst of a long, often lonely process of writing and revising.
Though Academic Writing Month is over now, feel free to return to these videos anytime and use them in your writing practice however you find most useful! I hope these videos bring more of whatever you most need in your writing practice, whether clarity on your subject, encouragement for your journey, a fresh perspective, or new conceptual tools for your thinking and writing. My goal is to help people forge an approach to writing and revising that integrates a bit more gentleness, reflectiveness, and dare I say fun — without sacrificing rigor or substance. BTW, here’s why I focus on asking writers questions instead of giving advice.
A confession about the making of these reflection questions
Here is the teaser video I used before #AcWriMo began to invite people to join me in the 30-day exercise. In it, I share what *I* thought was the number one reason to join in. ;)
—Margy Thomas, Ph.D., founder of ScholarShape
How to turn on subtitles: On a computer, hover at the bottom of the video window to make the row of icons appear; click on the “settings” icon (which looks like a cog), and select “Subtitles.” On a phone, the “subtitles” icon is in the bottom right corner of the screen.