Universität Bielefeld

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Publication-oriented Conveyance of Writing Skills

If the relevant descriptions from mass universities are to be believed, the most feedback students can expect on texts they turn in is often the grade they receive. Since previous generations of students had to pick up their grades in the form of a certificate from a professor’s office, they at least received their instructors’ written comments on their work. Now that campus management systems have been introduced at universities and polytechnical colleges, not even this is usually necessary: Instructors have to submit their grades only electronically, and no information beyond the grade itself is required. While this variant that minimizes interaction between instructors and students may be the exception in most courses of study, there is little doubt that efforts to encourage students to write are lacking.

The lack of writing skills among students is a problem not only because students are not able to express themselves in the most important academic communications media, but also, and especially, because it prevents students from improving their performance more generally. ...

The basic idea behind the concept of publication-oriented conveyance of writing skills is to systematically introduce students to the academic publication process. A central concern of this project is to keep the transmission of writing skills oriented toward publication from becoming an “elite development programme” for a few especially gifted and diligent students. ... The concept of publication-oriented conveyance of writing skills introduced here is instead much more concerned with orienting all students who write texts in a seminar or training research on the academic publication process. It must be expressly emphasized here that the idea is not to ensure that only one of every five or ten students in a study programme publish an academic article in a specialized journal or an omnibus volume. Rather, the objective is to ensure that every written work by a student be oriented on the academic publication process – regardless of whether or not a text is ultimately published.

The basic principle of the concept is that, from the very beginning of their studies, students should write not for “the drawer”, but for readers, and that this readership should consist of more than a single instructor. Certainly, many texts by students, and also by scholars, are written for the (electronic) drawer: notes on texts read, transcripts of discussions, summaries of a scholar’s own thoughts, and, finally, attempts to publish that were ultimately abandoned. Yet the basic principle of publication-oriented conveyance of writing skills is to introduce students to academic publishing within the framework of their studies. In so doing, the entire spectrum of academic texts forms can be used as a point of orientation. ...

Decisive for orienting the conveyance of writing skills on the academic publishing process is not the aspect that students will regularly compose precisely this form of texts in their later work. Instead it is relevant that in writing reviews, articles or essays, they learn abilities that are expected in all kinds of professions: Writing a review forces the author to capture the essence of a comprehensive text and to summarize and critique it in one or two pages. Drawing up an article requires that the author depict a problem in a generally comprehensible manner and then process it analytically in a sequence of steps. Writing an essay empowers the author to depict a topic concisely and in a generally comprehensible way from a single theoretical approach. ... From this perspective, the orientation on an academic publication is not the purpose to be achieved at the end of a course of study, but rather a means to improve the skills of students in writing texts.

What follows is a significantly abridged version, expanded in certain passages, of the article “Die publikationsorientierte Vermittlung von Schreibkompetenzen. Zur Orientierung des studentischen Schreibens in der Soziologie am wissenschaftlichen Veröffentlichungsprozess” (“Publication-oriented Conveyance of Writing Skills. On the Orientation of Student Writing in Sociology on the Academic Publishing Process”) by Stefan Kühl, which first appeared in issue 1 of the 44th volume of the journal Soziologie in 2015. We did not reproduce the footnotes in the abridged text.

Read on directly

Kühl, S., 2015a: “Die publikationsorientierte Vermittlung von Schreibkompetenzen. Zur Orientierung des studentischen Schreibens in der Soziologie am wissenschaftlichen Veröffentlichungsprozess”. _Soziologie_ 44: 56–77. PDF

Kühl, S., 2015b: “Der publikationsorientierte Erwerb von Schreibkompetenzen”. _Das Hochschulwesen_ 63: 143–157. PDF


A Journal Article by a Student?

The bar for a student writing a journal article is, admittedly, quite high. But it can be cleared! Naturally, when writing your first term paper in the second or third semester of your major, writing a first academic article of your own seems miles away. But start orienting yourself on role models published in the relevant journals for your specialty. After all, some day you may also dare to feed a work of your own into the academic publishing machinery. In the Organizations working area we have gained good experience with publication-oriented writing. Several examples:

  • From a term paper to an academic journal article: The edited volumes "Black-Box Beratung"(external link) and "Soziologische Analysen des Holocaust" (external link)
  • From summarizing books to reviewing them: “Integration von studentischen Rezensionen” in the volume "Schlüsselwerke der Organisationsforschung"(external link)
  • From a student’s final paper to a book: The “Studien der Organisationsforschung” series (external link)
  • From a student’s essay to a scientifically informed article in the mass media: The “Sozialtheoristen” blog (external link) (external link) and “SOZusagen” magazine (external link)

In any case, writing in a publication-oriented way always means dealing intensively with the format of the planned text and its potential readership. This is the only way to anticipate that your text will be read with interest by academics. Ezra Zuckermann offered ten helpful tips on how to achieve this:

  1. Make your text interesting for your readership.
  2. Understand who your readership is.
  3. Select the theory you wish to apply not for aesthetic reasons, but because it applies to your content.
  4. Start with a puzzle you would like to solve.
  5. Orient your writing on your puzzle, not on depicting knowledge you acquired from studying it.
  6. It is sufficient to focus your text on expressing a single core message!
  7. Offer the best possible presentation of those competing viewpoints on your puzzle which you would like to rebut – and then actually rebut them thoroughly.
  8. Do not make light of a competing thesis on your puzzle, but treat it as a serious alternative – then you, too, will be taken seriously.
  9. Guide your readership through your text.
  10. Never simply render texts which you have (coincidentally) read.

If you read German, take a look at what Zuckerman himself had to say: external link.