Putting pen(guin) to paper
We recently published a peer-reviewed journal article (a free version is available from the University of Portsmouth Research Portal) about the arrival of Pablo the penguin (who tweets as @uoppenguin). Some of you might be wondering about the origins of Pablo the penguin and indeed how any sane and rational journal editor, let alone scholarly reviewers, ever passed an article celebrating his introduction into the academic literature. Indeed, Pablo just waddled over and asked me the same question, hence this blog post explaining both his origins and the lessons I learned from writing my first academic journal article.
The history of Pablo: Penguin and Astonishing Bird of Library Origin
Originating as a guest character named with a self-referential acronym in episode two of the (then) Turner & Paige blog cartoon, celebrating the initial exuberance of our new air conditioning system (in the early days when it really was cold enough for snow if you sat in the wrong place) Pablo took up his role of making gentle fun of the foibles and shortcomings of the Library and its many varied human inhabitants, followed by further cartoons where he engaged enthusiastically with all things new and fell afoul of the most commonplace student mishaps only to bounce back and demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity at every turn. And Pablo does find adversity at every turn, being two foot tall and prone to mishaps, he has merrily embarrassed himself on a regular basis.
Was he universally loved? Sadly not. Many colleagues looked on him skeptically, expressing concerns that he looked trivial, peripheral, a waste of time and space even though, in his own words, “I only take up a very small basket!” Still, we felt the need to touch base intellectually with the marketing science and scholarship that explained what was so evidently right instinctively and emotionally to someone working on the front line, with social media and promotions. It was an experience, although if anyone involved had known how much work it was going to involve, we might never have started.
After days of very intense work keeping the Promotions Team afloat, searching, reconstructing and integrating our findings with a comprehensive review of the literature, and then repeating the process after initial peer review to double the length of the literature review and find hundreds of wasted words to throw out to make room for it, the article was ready. Mercifully, both our reviewers were perfectly normal, lovely reviewers who offered nothing but support, constructive criticism and encouragement. Even having to restructure the entire article following peer review had the effect of turning what had looked suspiciously like a piece of respectable Master’s level coursework into a polished and cogent argument. Which was nice. Happily we never encountered the feared and reviled horror known as “Reviewer 2” – a reputed monster described on social media as that which stalks academics, indiscriminately devouring submitted manuscripts and spewing back insurmountable objections.
- Love your reviewers – if they suggest re-writing most of your article, it just means the six days you discovered you had wasn’t quite enough time for you to write something perfect the first time around.
- Don’t be precious about what you have written. Knee deep in your second version, you will probably come to realise that the people who can write beautiful, clear, well-constructed prose about complex subjects the first time around are very few and far between. Prepare to find coarse thickets of tangled ideas where you remember tidily clipped lawns lined with clear arguments and be ruthless pruning and weeding them to best effect.
- Be prepared to re-structure of what you have written. This is often a quick way to save hundreds of words. Which is helpful when doubling the content of your the literature review.
- A picture speaks a thousand words, provided it is has a clear explanatory caption. Very little makes sense unless you can visualise it and for anything even slightly esoteric, actually having a photograph or diagram helps enormously.