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Posts Tagged ‘research’

Academia and citations


A colleague of mine on Facebook just shared this interesting link about citation practices in academia. The basic gist of it is that although a ton of articles are published annually, very few of them are cited. And even if an article is cited, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually been read. This means that the vast majority of articles go unheeded (and consequently uncited). Taken together, the article then argues that:

[The impacts] of most peer-reviewed publications even within the scientific community are miniscule.

In defense of these claims, the article links to a paper by Larivière and Gingras which looks at the proportion of papers cited once between 1900-2007, as well as a few other measures of citation concentration. With specific reference to Humanities, the authors make the following point:

The very low percentage of articles cited at least once may be a reflection of the tendency of humanities researchers to cite books instead of articles. All in all, these data strongly show that, in all fields except HUM, fewer and fewer of the published papers go unnoticed and uncited and, consequently, science is increasingly drawing on the stock of published papers.

So…. in all other fields the authors look at (Natural Sciences and Engineering, Medicine, and Social Sciences), an increasing publications are being cited at least once and citations are expanding out beyond a narrow group of papers. This will probably get only better since the landscape of dissemination has changed quite considerably in the timeframe the authors look at (1900-2007). Even in the past eight years, a whole bunch of resources have emerged which make it even easier to share one’s work. For example, the cut-off of 2007 is a few years before social media sites like academia.edu (2008) and orcid.org (2012) were published, before social bibliographic programes like Mendeley (2008) came along, and just on the cusp of resources like Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006) and Zotero (2006).

To get back to the results, the fact that the LSE blog has taken only one wee bit of the study and ignored the more general picture of increasing citation counts in other fields is a bit odd, especially when the authors of the paper come to the conclusion that:

Though many factors certainly contribute to the observed trends, two things are clear: researchers are not increasingly relying on recent science, nor are citations limited to fewer papers or journals (my emphasis).

I always tell my students to make sure that their evidence points in the same direction as the claims they’re making. Just sayin’. Although perhaps to be fair, the blog does say “82 percent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once.” That said, this point kind of overlooks the fact that citations practices are a bit different in this field compared with, say, sciences. In humanities (I’m reliably informed by literature colleagues) the book is king; journal articles are seen as a bit of a sideshow really. This gets a bit frustrating given that within sociolinguistics, articles are pretty important. But anyway, a more relevant point here is that even if journal articles in the humanities aren’t cited, that doesn’t mean that the research in them isn’t covered elsewhere (in a book, for example). The research gets out there, but in a different format.

Anyway, moving on. The LSE blog then makes the (startlingly bold) claim that:

Many scholars aspire to contribute to their discipline’s knowledge and to influence practitioner’s decision-making. However, it is widely acknowledged practitioners rarely read articles published in peer-reviewed journals. We know of no senior policy-maker, or senior business leader who ever reads any peer-reviewed papers, even in recognized journals like Nature, Science or The Lancet.

I’m sure that many academics do actually want to influence decision-making. But I’m perhaps a bit more skeptical of the last claim that research articles definitely aren’t read by policy makers etc (again, I tell my students to avoid subjective reporting as objective fact). Of course, it’s an easy argument to make that work put behind pay walls limits access (as the LSE blog does and as I do in my recent chapter on some of these issues), but with the Open Access movement, pre-print publication and so on, the barriers to accessing research outputs are slowly being lowered. Add to that the increasing social media presence many academics are taking on (see my upcoming chapter for details), there are certainly many more avenues for potential impact.

To address the issue of ‘low dissemination count’, the blog calls for ‘brevity’ in research outreach, either in summary papers or press releases through the media. In more detail:

No decision-maker would ever ask for summaries regarding publications and discussions in academic journals. If academics want to have impact on policy makers and practitioners, they must consider popular media, which has never been easy for scholars. This in spite of the fact that media firms have developed many innovative business models to help scholars reach out.

I think this is dangerous for a couple of reasons. ‘Brevity’ gets rid of a lot of the detail that’s important in academic research, with its conditions and caveats. What you gain in ‘accessibility’ you (potentially) lose in rigour and robustness. The media is, for all its benefits, an unreliable source of dissemination and one where academics have very little control over the final product. Why on earth would a policy maker want to rely on a journalist’s interpretation of a piece of research that said journalist probably knocked up in an hour or so (just to make a deadline mind)?

But quite why its academics’ responsibility to do all the leg work is kind of beyond me. Surely those making decisions, decisions which will affect peoples’ lives, have a responsibility to have all the facts at hand so they can make informed decisions? Do we want to be half-arsing summaries of our research by just going for the ‘juicy details’ to satisfy some policy-wig who has the attention span of a hyper-active hamster? I’m not sure we do…

Moreover, who is to say that one’s research will even end up influencing policy? Only research which aligns with the priorities is likely to be taken up (essentially, research which helps the policy maker spin support their story). Can you imagine a piece of research commissioned by the Government which goes against their plans having an effect of changing public policy?

The last point in the article that I do (kind of) agree with is the need to reassess scholars’ performance. As Andrew Pettigrew has argued several times, adopting a ‘portfolio’ model of research activity could be a way to go. So instead of just focusing on published journal articles, things like scholars’ effect on policy implementation and design, contribution to public debates etc should form part of evaluating scholarly contribution. But such evaluation and measurement makes me uncomfortable, since it sets fairly arbitrary standards and ultimately creates a culture of distrust within academia. And what if an academic doesn’t do this kind of sexy, flavour of the month work? That should be ok. Universities should value knowledge of whatever stripe, not simply prioritise research which speaks to the most current funding call.

This all might seem a very down in the dumps kind of post, but it needed be. We now have ever more tools at our disposal to wrest control back and communicate our research on our terms, and we need to remember that. Perhaps more important, we need to get our voices out there and contribute to ongoing discussions about knowledge¹. We may be ignored, but better to speak up and be ignored than stay silent and remove all possibility of being heard.

The Social Linguist

1. Although I freely admit this may be a conversational dead end – all the moaning in the world by academics about RAE/REF didn’t change anything…

It’s been a long year…


And it’s only February! I know that I usually start these posts with ‘I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last posted’, but genuinely, I can’t believe I last posted in October last year! Part of this is still to do with the fact that I’m struggling to find a balance between teaching, admin, research and finding time to blog.

And it’s not like there’s not been interesting stuff to discuss, from the article on New York English, to a new blog I found (Lexical Valley), stuff on pronoun usage on Google, gender neutrality in children’s books, linguistic discrimination in the trial about Trayvon Martin’s shooting, Danny Dyer and Game of Thrones and loads more besides. So there’s been loads of stuff going on that would have been interesting to have spent a bit more time on, so over the next few months I hope to go back to some of these stories and have a bit of a think about what they tell us about language.

But alas, my focus has been primarily on course directing, marking, doing my external examiner duties, wedding planning (!), a bit of writing and assorted other work-related responsibilities. One of the things that is coming to an end (ok, in the next 10 months) is the impact volume that I’m working on with Dave Sayers (Sheffield Hallam). We even have our own entry in the Routledge catalogue, so it’s all systems go as far as that’s concerned. All the chapters are in (I finished my chapter last Sunday), the introduction is still to be finished, and then it’s just the wee bits and pieces of indexing etc that’ll be left to do around about June or so. I’m really looking forward to this coming out, and it’ll be the end of a long process going back to 2012. These projects take far too long to do, and that’s one of the things that I talk about in my chapter!

Anyway, I had a quick 30 minutes tonight to get this post done. Apologies it’s not exactly high on quality content, but I kind of guilt tripped myself into writing something down!

The Social Linguist

Time flies!


As the end of summer fast approaches, it’s a nice time to take stock of just how quickly this year has gone and what I’ve done in academic year 2013/14. Right now, I’ve been back in the UK for more than a year, I’ve been engaged for eight months, it’s been more than four months since my knee surgery, it’s been about six weeks from us moving into our first house, and it’s been about two weeks since I started my latest health kick and trying to get back to BMF.

And despite the fact that this year has been full of lots of stuff, I’ve managed to carve out some time for writing, which has included a big step towards finishing the Mock the Week paper I’ve been working on with a colleague for about the past three years (!) and my chapter for the impact volume is nearing the stage where I can send it out for review. I’ve also done a few conferences, a couple of reviews and some other bits and pieces, so all in all, 2013/14 has been relatively productive, with a variety of highs and lows.

But probably one of the academic highlights of this past 12 months has to be the Sociolinguistics Summer School, held for the first time outside of the UK in the sunny environs of UCD in Dublin. The Sociolinguistics Summer School has been running since 2009 and was first held at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, it’s been held in 2010 (Edinburgh), 2011 (Glasgow), 2012 (Newcastle) and 2014 (Dublin). I was lucky enough to go along to the one in either 2009 or 2010 (I forget which…), the one in Glasgow in 2011 and then the most recent one in Dublin, and it’s wonderful to see it grow from strength to strength. What was really crazy for me was attending in 2009/10 as a recently-completed PhD student and then being invited in 2014 as one of the plenary speakers (my first major plenary session as well). If someone had said in 2009/10 that I’d be back giving a plenary talk, I’d have thought you mental, but it happened! Alongside Daniel Ezra Johnson, Helen Kelly-Holmes and Diarmait Mac Giolla Chriost, I was certainly in esteemed company, although it’s debatable how much I felt I belonged there!

For those of you who haven’t been to a Summer School, it generally follows the pattern of a plenary talk in the morning, followed by a two-hour workshop for students (led by the plenary speaker), then lunch, then student presentations. Oh, and then the pub. I ran out of time a bit during my presentation and had to rush through the last 10/15 minutes, and it certainly made me realise I have to think through some of the issues a bit more before I commit them to paper, and my workshop session seemed to get people talking, so generally speaking, I think I can count the whole day as a success.

But what’s really great about the Summer School is that it’s a wonderful venue for postgraduate students to meet and discuss their work in a relatively low-pressure and supportive environment. There’s less worry about being asked that really horrible question from a member of the audience and people seem to be more open to discussing the trials and tribulations of the research process and working on research problem. It was also good to see the depth and breadth of work postgraduate students are undertaking, from the increase of Irish language provision in Northern Ireland to the coverage of the horse meat scandal of last year. I’m always impressed by the confidence and poise demonstrated by postgraduate researchers (qualities I most certainly didn’t possess as a postgrad!), and the presentations I saw this year were no exception.

I also have to say a brief word about the organising team, who I thought did a brilliant job in putting together such a great event. Having organised the Birmingham Cityscapes symposium a few years back, I know how difficult it is to head up an academic event; it really is like herding cats. But Jennifer, Chloe, John and Hema put so much time and effort into making the event a success, and even though I told them this countless times during the week (probably at my most ebullient following a couple pints of Guinness…), it’s worthwhile repeating!

The Social Linguist

P.S. The last I knew, no-one had volunteered to organise Summer School 6, so if you’re keen on hosting the event at your institution, get in touch with the committee from UCD and they’ll point you in the right direction of how to go about it.

Some research stuff!


Ok, so I know it’s been ages since I last posted, something which is particularly embarrassing given the fact that my last post mentioned that I would be updating more regularly. And that hasn’t happened. Ugh. Part of the reason for this is because I’ve been settling back into my life in Birmingham after my Fulbright life in Pittsburgh came to an end, and to be totally honest, I’m still kind of finding my feet. It’s amazing how despite living in a city for years, even a short time away can make everything seem so new again. I mean, I spent nearly 10 years in Glasgow and now when I visit there, I hardly recognise the place, and the same happened a wee bit with coming back to Brum.

But after a few months back, things are slowly coming together. I’m back teaching, I’m back sitting in meetings, I’m back driving back and forth to work, and I’m gradually getting to grips with this UK life, but I think it’ll take another few months before I can honestly say things are back to the way they were before I left. What’s a bit worrisome is that I still find myself pining for Pittsburgh, about the places and people I met there, and while I had that a bit with Tucson, it’s more pronounced this time. I’m sure it will pass, but being melancholy about it certainly won’t help!

In other news, there’s been quite a lot happening in the world of sociolinguistics recently. For example, we had Lindsay Johns banging on about the power of the spoken word and how we should all be speaking Standard English. We had the banning of slang words in a high school in south London. There was the story about declining literacy rates in the UK and the slump in foreign language learning at university level. Oh, and there was also the story that ‘huh’ might be a linguistic universal. All of this, and more, continues to show how language is still very much front and centre on the national and international stage, although bizarrely, there’s not much in the way of input of actual linguists… That’s probably a story for another post, particularly as it relates to my own research on social media and the reporting of sociolinguistic research (I gave a talk about this at the recent Language in the Media conference in London).

Lastly, I’m happy to announce that I’ve had a flurry of things getting published recently, including an article on TH-fronting in Glasgow, which will be in English World-Wide and my own chapter on what ethnography can tell us about sociolinguistic variation over time, which will be in my edited volume Sociolinguistics in Scotland (and you can now buy it on Amazon!). Both of these pieces of work have been a wee while in the making, so as you can imagine, I’m pretty chuffed to have them done and dusted (especially the edited volume!). /blatentselfpromotion (!)

So yeah, I’ll try try try to start updating this more regularly, especially because it is quite good fun and it’s something a bit different from the usual academic-y kind of writing that I have to do. If only I could use some of my blog posts as REF outputs…

The Social Linguist

Edited volumes: Worth it in the long run?


So, I eventually managed to finish off the edited volume I’ve been working on for over two years now, and with that, I can rest easy that my REF return is all done. It was a real relief to send the final version off, and all that’s left is the proofs and the cover-art, although I’m sure that I’ll find out even more horrors are in store for me when I get to that stage! In any event, it’s been a massively beneficial experience for me and I’ve learnt loads about managing expectations, dealing with peer reviewers, trying to tie all the chapters together, structure, content, word limits etc etc, but I still have this nagging feeling at the back of my head of ‘was it worth it?’. Now, this mainly comes about because edited volumes are, for better or worse, not as highly regarded as that peak of academic achievement, the all-glorious journal article. This is primarily because a) chapters are (usually) solicited by the editor rather than submitted by authors, b) the peer-review process tends to be somewhat less rigorous than that for journals and c) chapters for edited volumes tend not to be rejected regardless of peer-review comments (the line of thinking is, I suppose, that if the editor solicited the chapter, then it should be accepted).

With all the above in mind, then, you’d think that no right minded academic would think about doing an edited volume, especially an academic at the early part of their career (like me!). I mean, I spent over two years working on this, time which might have been better spent doing peer-reviewed articles (which I did during that time anyway), or working more on the book. But of course, edited volumes come out all the time, usually done by well-known and established academics, so they can’t be *that* bad of an investment?

I think there’s two sides to this really. The first is that yes, you probably shouldn’t invest too much time doing an edited volume at the beginning of your career. The time spent between soliciting chapters (or doing a call for papers), sorting out and deciding which chapters to accept, sending out rejection letters to those you didn’t want, preparing the proposal for consideration by a publisher, doing the response to the reviewers, having the proposal rejected anyway, doing the proposal all over again, liaising with contributors to keep them up to date with what’s happening, eventually having the proposal accepted, setting out deadlines for authors, finding peer-reviewers to read chapters, liaising with reviewers and authors, reading and commenting on all the chapters, writing your own chapter, finding someone to do the foreword, reading peer-reviewer comments and deciding what the authors need to address, writing your own chapter, re-reading re-submissions, re-doing *more* comments, finishing your own chapter, finding a map for the book, getting copy-right permissions to use the map, cross-checking all the bibliography entries, proof-reading everything, doing the introduction, finding a reviewer for the introduction, dealing with their comments, re-doing the introduction, paginating everything, doing the pre-publication checklist, writing the table of contents, the table of figures *and* the table of tables (all with the right page numbers), finding out that you missed a page number out and having to the that all over again, deciding that you don’t like the order of the chapters and having to change pagination again, doing contributor biographies, writing the catalog description (50 words), the website description (150 words) and the blurb (200 words), getting contributor agreements, sending all the paperwork to the publisher, and deciding that you just don’t have enough time to do the index so you’re going to outsource it to a professional indexer (fully recommend this btw), I could have written another two journal articles on top of the ones I *did* write while doing all of the above.

At this stage of my career, more publications is always a good thing, but the other side of it is that I have gained an incredible number of skills I otherwise wouldn’t have had I decided not to do the edited volume. Not least among these was learning to co-ordinate a group of highly-skilled academic researchers from around the world in producing a fairly substantial piece of work which will (hopefully!) be a major contribution to work on sociolinguistics in Scotland.

I would say, though, that doing an edited volume wouldn’t be high priority on my ‘to-do’ list post-PhD, and I’d always recommend targeting peer-review publications first and foremost. But once you’ve got a few of them under your belt, I think that there are worse ways to spend your time in academia than doing an edited volume (although I’d probably advise against this if if you’re on a US-based tenure-track position, since journal articles will likely count for far more in your tenure bid than edited volumes would. My guess is that’s why most edited volumes in the US come from already-tenured professors, whereas in the UK, early career researchers publish edited volumes as well as journal articles).

So yeah; edited volumes – more work than I realised, but worth it.

The Social Linguist

Writing a book….


So I’ve now embarked on the whole ‘writing a book’ malarkey, and I have to say, it’s been a bit of a rough transition from article writing to book writing. When I was doing my PhD, finishing the thesis was the big aim, and since you usually have three years in which to complete it, a whole thesis doesn’t seem like too big an effort. Once I was done with my thesis and started writing articles for publication, the jump down from writing 100,000 words for one piece of work to only having to write ~10,000 words was fantastic! The great thing about a journal article is the sense of progress. You start with a blank piece of paper, and (hopefully!) within a few months, you’ll have at least a first draft to work with. Progress is very noticeable with a journal article and that sense of achievement keeps you going on and plugging away at it. Moreover, you know that, generally speaking, you’ll be able to draw a line under it after a few months.

But with the book, I’m back to the long, drawn out process of thinking about my research over the course of 100,000 words, rather than a short, punchy 10,000 words. And unlike writing a journal article, there’s less of a sense of progress, especially when I’ve planned to write nine chapters. Keeping positive when I know that there’s another 90,000 words to go (or eight chapters, depending on how you look at it) is tough, and despite having already written that much for my thesis, girding my loins for a marathon rather than a sprint is, thus far, proving to be a bigger challenge than I had originally thought.

I suppose part of the solution is to break it down into manageable chunks, and to forget that each chapter is working towards the book as a whole (since that can be dealt with during the re-write part). So instead of seeing it as one big book, seeing it as a bunch of quite detailed journal articles. That way, there’s more of a sense of achievement once each chapter is ticked off. And I think that seeing any long piece of writing (a thesis, a book, an edited volume etc) as one long slog is probably self-defeating. Chunking it up and breaking it down into smaller bits and pieces keeps you focused on short-term goals and targets and makes you feel as though you’re actually getting through the work.

But I’ll be able to better comment on that once the book is done.

The Social Linguist

How to take the fun out of comedy…


I’ve been working on a project with a few colleague for the past year or so looking at gender and interruption in Mock the Week. We presented the first tranche of results back at the International Language and Gender Conference in Brazil (which uncovered the small fact that we had to do more work to do on it…), but basically, we’re trying to figure out whether male panelists interrupt more frequently than female panelists, or if it is more to do with how often a panelist is on the show (unfortunately, this is complicated by the fact that the panelists who are on most often are male…). We’ve then got plans to tie this to issues of conversational dominance and so on, seeing whether we can support Jo Brand‘s comments about the show on an empirical level.

Rather than using more traditional CA approaches to transcribe the data, we’re leveraging the department’s skills in corpus linguistics, so we’ve marked up all the data in XML format, which means that, in theory, it’ll be easier to extract the features we decide to look at, provided these features have their own XML tag. As someone who is mainly used to a CA approach, this is new territory for me, and looking at an XML editor is kind of scary. But I’ve been assured that this is the best way to tackle this.

We were lucky enough that we managed to get some students to do the first pass of transcription in Word, and then these were fed into some infernal machine which spat out workable XML transcripts. These were then edited by one of my colleagues, and now I’m going through them for the second time cross-checking them.

Now to the point of my post: the most sure fire way of sucking the fun out of anything ‘humorous’ is to start transcribing it. I’m only on my fifth episode (of ten), but seriously, I’m kind of losing the will here…

– The Social Linguist