Blogging, Two Years On

Tuesday marked the second anniversary of YSPR. I wrote the first post while at a political science conference, so it seems fitting that I spent the last couple of weeks travelling to ISA and MPSA. From those two conferences it is clear that blogging and social media are playing an increasingly prominent role in the field. At ISA there was a strong turnout for the blogging reception. While in Chicago for MPSA I had the pleasure of joining a dinner for conflict scholars hosted by Will Moore and Christian Davenport. One notable aspect of that dinner was that in the invitation email everyone had a personal website or blog.

I sincerely appreciate everyone who has visited this blog over the past two years and expressed their support either online or in person. For others who may be starting a blog or thinking about doing so, here are a few lessons I have learned over the past year:

1. Schedule your writing. Making time to write is an important habit to get into. Whether it’s daily or weekly, set aside some time that you can avoid distractions and just write. I usually like first thing in the morning, but you may prefer late evening or another time of day.

2. Schedule your posts. I used to hit “publish” as soon as I wrote something, but that changed this year. Instead, I like to line up about a week’s worth of posts at a time. This allows me to arrange some continuity between posts. It also gives time for my ideas to gel and to ruminate over new post ideas without feeling rushed (and sometimes catch typos).

3. Get involved in a community of writers. Blogging can feel like a solitary task, but it doesn’t have to be. A year ago I got in touch with Duke professor Marc Bellemare since I enjoy his blog. We now get lunch or coffee occasionally and chat about all manner of interesting topics. There are also a few scholar-bloggers I know primarily through blogs and Twitter (Jay Ulfelder, Trey Causey).  Creating friendships with people who will respond to your writing and offer critique when you need it is invaluable.

Thanks for being part of the conversation!

How Much is a Publication Worth?

Rembrandt, Scholar at a Table by Candle-light

Rembrandt, Scholar at a Table by Candle-light

How much is a publication worth? If you are a professor of economics at the University of California, this study says that each article published in your field’s top journals (American Economic ReviewEconometrica, and Review of Economics and Statistics) increases your annual salary by 1.5 percent or about $2,053. Here’s the abstract, which details a few other factors:

We study salaries of economics faculty at the University of California to determine how publications affect salary. We find that each publication in a top 10 journal has a positive and significant effect on annual base salary of 1.5%, or $2,053. Unlike previous research, our analysis specifies the impact of publications in specific journals. Publications in American Economic ReviewEconometrica, and Review of Economics and Statistics have an independent positive effect on salary. Compensation is also affected by faculty rank, seniority, university of employment, and teaching awards. Base salary does not significantly differ by gender, however, gross salary is about 9% lower for women. After controlling for migration and faculty rank, seniority has a negative impact on salary.

Let’s plug this in to the calculation that Mike Munger used in a post late last year.

[A] journal article publication is “worth” at least $10k, in terms of increment to future expected value of lifetime salary.  A good journal publication, in a top field journal, is worth more than $25k.  Sure, you don’t get paid by check, when the thing gets accepted.  But if you add up the differences in salary, over time, for your whole career, when you are very young, small differences in hiring, raises, and promotion make a big difference.  (For example, if a young scholar published a paper, and gets a $1,000 dollar raise, assuming a 10% discount rate, that’s $9,427 in present value over a 30 year career.  At a 5% discount rate, that would be more than $15,000).

So, if you want money, publish journal articles.  Your time is worth at least $100 per hour, maybe more, since you can write a journal article in 100 hours of actual work (and 100x$100=$10,000)

The present value of a $2,503 salary bump over thirty years with 10 percent discounting is $23,596. If the 100 hour figure is still accurate for the top journals listed above, that is $235/hour. Even it takes twice as long to write a top journal article it is still more profitable than publishing in the “average” $1,000/year/article journal. But if you have no chance of making it into the top journals you should aim your sights a bit lower and make up for it by increasing your output. Either way, these calculations show that time spent writing is valuable if it leads to publications.

[via @UdadisiSuperior]

Writing Advice Round-Up

Rembrandt’s Young Man Reading by Candle Light

Novelist Colson Whitehead has 11 rules for writing. Number 10 is, “Revise, revise, revise.”

Andrew Gelman suggests writing your research paper in reverse. (The original link appears to be broken, but Alex Tabarrok reblogged the whole thing.)

Jim Stinson of UNC has more detailed (and opinionated) advice for professional writing in political science.

Tim Buthe of Duke makes 10 recommendations–a quick read.

Much of this wisdom is also distilled in Mike Munger’s 10 tips on “How to Write Less Badly.”

For and Against Open Journals

As a follow-up to last week’s post on open data, here is a recent article from The Economist on the argument for open journals:

Criticism of journal publishers usually boils down to two things. One is that their processes take months, when the internet could allow them to take days. The other is that because each paper is like a mini-monopoly, which workers in the field have to read if they are to advance their own research, there is no incentive to keep the price down. The publishers thus have scientists—or, more accurately, their universities, which pay the subscriptions—in an armlock. That, combined with the fact that the raw material (manuscripts of papers) is free, leads to generous returns. In 2011 Elsevier, a large Dutch publisher, made a profit of £768m on revenues of £2.06 billion—a margin of 37%. Indeed, Elsevier’s profits are thought so egregious by many people that 12,000 researchers have signed up to a boycott of the company’s journals.

For those who are less familiar with the process, academic journals work something like this. Researchers are eager to publish in journals because that is their main measure of output (“publish or perish,” the saying goes). Although publishing articles is important professional currency for academics, it almost never translates into getting paid for the content they generate. Instead, the journal publisher provides the service of taking articles generated, reviewed, edited by academics for free and distributing them to libraries. For this service, they charge the libraries substantial amounts of money.

I am not complaining about the process, but I am just sharing my understanding of how it works. The main competitor to this model is not one in which academics will receive greater financial remuneration. The new model would exploit the fact that distribution has become much cheaper to provide some sort of open journal.

There are many non-trivial details to be worked out, however. Editors and reviewers would have to get on board. The journal would have to pay careful attention to quality assurance in order to gain respect. Authors would have to choose to submit to that journal over other more established outlets. These challenges are not insurmountable, but they require someone to make the first move. Not to mention that there are already too many journals.

Wednesday Nerd Fun: TV Writers Podcast

From June Thomas:

The format of the Nerdist Writers Panel is pretty straightforward. Host Ben Blacker, a writer with credits on Supah Ninjas and Supernatural, interviews TV writers—often in groups of three, but occasionally one-on-one—about how they broke into the business, their experiences working on various shows, and how different showrunners, writers rooms, and networks operate. The discussions are usually taped in front of an audience (the shows benefit nonprofit tutoring program 826LA), and attract an impressive array of guests, including Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, Lost’s Damon Lindelof, Justified’s Graham Yost, and Community’s Dan Harmon. Blacker is a skilful interviewer who keeps the conversation moving, asks follow-ups when they’re needed, and doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics.

You can find the complete Writers Panel podcast archives at Nerdist or iTunes.

Meta-Blogging, Pt. 2: Weekly Trend in Tweets, Likes, and Comments

This post begins to describe the blog data collected (separately) by Anton Strezhnev and myself. One of the first things I did was to set the date variable in R format so that I could do some exploration.

# setwd('get your own')
monkey1 <- read.dta('finalMonkeyCageData.dta')

monkey1$newdate <- as.Date(monkey1$date, "%m/%d/%Y")

monkey1$weekdaynum <- format(monkey1$newdate, "%w")

day_abbr_list <- c("Sun","Mon","Tue","Wed","Thu","Fri","Sat")


boxplot(monkey1$tweets ~ monkey1$weekdaynum, xaxt='n',xlab='',ylab="Tweets",col='blue')
axis(1,labels=day_abbr_list, at=c(1,2,3,4,5,6,7))

boxplot(monkey1$likes ~ monkey1$weekdaynum, xaxt='n',xlab='',ylab="Likes",col='red')
axis(1,labels=day_abbr_list, at=c(1,2,3,4,5,6,7))

boxplot(monkey1$comments ~ monkey1$weekdaynum,xlab='',xaxt='n',ylab="Comments",col='green')
axis(1,labels=day_abbr_list, at=c(1,2,3,4,5,6,7))

The result was this plot:

Monkey Cage Activity by Weekday

For tweets and likes it looks like earlier in the week (Sunday, Monday) is better, while comments get an additional bump on Saturday and Wednesday. In the next couple of posts we’ll look at how these three activities are correlated with page views, and how comments are distributed on the other blogs I scraped.

Tips for Writers Block

Ten helpful tips, directed at fiction writers but applicable to other areas are here. Mild spoiler alert: I was disappointed to discover that the tenth type of writers block was not “You are reading too much,” which seems to me to be a common problem for people who are nominally writers. At the risk of self-delusion, I might suggest that the quality of this blog has improved since I vastly cut down the amount of reading that I do.*

Mike Munger–my favorite source for writing advice–addresses this point rather succinctly: “Don’t read. Write.”


* This probably doesn’t mean what it seems to, since I am still a voracious reader. To be more direct, I have modified the way in which I read. It will take more practice and thought before I am ready to address this in a post, though.

Writing as Driving

Building on the last post, the following are a few simple rules for writing taken from the task of driving. Readers are invited to suggest additions in the comments, and to call me out any time that I violate these rules on the blog.

Know your point of departure. If the prompt (be it your own or someone else’s) does not specify the position you are to take, you need to make your initial position clear to the reader. What do you expect the reader to already know about this topic?

Know your destination. Getting in the car just for the sake of driving can sometimes be fun. You are not, however, allowed to kidnap people and take them with you. If you want your reader to be a willing companion on the journey, give them an idea of where you are going.

Provide a roadmap. You may want to take the scenic route, or to get there as quickly as possible. If your passengers don’t know which way you plan to take, they may have different expectations than you do. Let them know how you plan to get to your destination (the conclusion of the paper) so that they can be fair in saying whether or not you got off track.

Stay in your lane. Keep one consistent train of thought throughout the paper. Side trips can be interesting too, but you must justify to the reader why they are important and how they contribute to the final destination (a stop for gas or snacks, say).

Headlights or windshield wipers? There are concepts in your writing that may be unclear to you because of your own (lack of) experience or personal bias. For these, you need windshield wipers: have someone else read the paper and tell you where your thinking was unclear. Other times, the path you are traveling may not be illuminated because few people have travelled it in the past. For these kinds of topics, with which general readers are probably unfamiliar, provide background detail and be even more clear than usual about the contribution you are making.

Don’t run people over. Causing someone’s untimely death is neither an expeditious nor expedient way to reach your destination. If you are going to critique another writer’s views or arguments in your paper, do so–but don’t attack the person.

Deliver the goods. Your passengers expect to get to the destination in a timely fashion, according to the roadmap you gave them. With writing, you have an opportunity that you don’t have in real life. If you did not reach the conclusion that you expected to, you can go back and set realistic expectations before asking other passengers to join you. Many road trips would be saved if this were possible in real life.

Writing, Driving, and the Weakness of the ‘Subjectivity Critique’

Anyone who has taken the SAT or the GRE within the last five years has been faced with the challenge of writing a brief essay on an assigned topic within a limited time period. Surveys suggest that public speaking is one of Americans’ biggest fears, but this type of public writing would probably rank higher on that list if it were required more often. Many people do not like to have their written work critiqued. “It’s too subjective,” they say, as if that were some sort of defense. What they really mean is “I don’t know what rules I am going to be judged by.” As a consequence, lots of us tend to hold a more esteemed view of our writing and thinking than we ought to.

It just so happens that the same is true of driving: according to one often-repeated statistic, 93 percent of Americans placed themselves in the top 50 percent of drivers for still and the top 88 percent for safety. In another survey (same link), “almost 80% of participants had evaluated themselves as being above the average driver.” Not only is it statistically impossible for more than 50 percent of people to be better than average the median, but every reader here will have encountered many bad drivers over the course of their lifetime. We think we are better drivers than we actually are because 1) we never sit in the passenger seat when we drive (trips to the UK and its commonwealths do not count) and 2) we can never see ourselves from outside the car when we drive.

This is not to drive home a metaphysical point, but to make a parallel. Driving can be good or bad, but we often misjudge our own abilities because we fail to see from other perspectives. Likewise, writing can be good or bad, but to know the difference you have to look at it from the perspective of the reader. Really good authors (and by “really good” I mean “self-critical”) can look through the eyes of their readers, but the rest of us have another resource to rely on–actual readers.

Putting your writing in front of others can be scary, but it is necessary for improvement. This is the same reason that we have driving instructors and/or parents in the car for the first year: to tell us how to improve. To argue that writing cannot be judged on an exam like the SAT or GRE is the same as arguing that we cannot know whether someone is a good or bad driver. The multiple-choice questions on the exam ask something very simple: can the driver move the car from one position (the question) to the proper parking spot (the right answer). The written portion of the exam, on the other hand, looks at actual driving ability when someone is given the task of moving from point A (the prompt) to point B (a conclusion of their own choosing). While some readers might critique the choice of destination, writing can be judged objectively on the basis of how well the trip was made. I will suggest some examples of writing rules taken from driving in the next post.