Top Tips from Published Authors

I've asked a number of people who have published in library and information-related areas to share their top tips.  If you have a top tip and want to share it please e-mail me

Antony Brewerton
My Top Tips for Writing

First off, what is your motivation for writing?  A thin CILIP Chartership or LAI Fellowship  portfolio is not the best reason.  Involvement in a ground-breaking project that could benefit the rest of the profession – that’s more like it.
Next, don’t write an article then look for a publisher.  Identify your journal first.  Is it looking for academic pieces or something more practical?  Who is the audience: general practitioners or those working in specialist fields?  This will impact on the style, level and content of your writing.
Talk to your editor, your new best friend.   Are there themed issues planned into which your article could nicely fit?  When are the copy deadlines?  What is the word limit?  What is open to negotiation?  There’s no point submitting a longer than agreed article a couple of days after the agreed deadline if it means you won’t get published.
Once you’ve done all this you can think about writing!  Don’t expect perfect prose to flow immediately.  Writing is a craft and outputs need to be crafted:

Plan it – get some ideas down on paper
Organise it – get some structure, with headings, subheadings, etc.
Write it – best advice I have ever been given: ‘don’t get it right, get it written’
Edit it – ‘kill your darlings’ as William Faulkner put it (this will help get it right)
Leave it – then go back and do more ‘killing’
Re-read it – do this out loud to really get a sense of flow
Then get someone honest who is not too close to the content to re-read it …and act on their feedback.
Finally enjoy the buzz of getting your article published …it makes all this hard work worthwhile!

This is based on a longer article

Jane Burns

My Top Tips for Writing
What works for me when writing anything is knowing that the first time my pen hits the paper that this is only the start of the process. Accepting that my first sentence does not have to be perfect before the rest of the writing can commence has proven to be a great time saver and has removed that unnecessary block.  I don’t look at editing and re-writing as burdens but rather a chance to fine tune what I have been imagining in my head.
A practical tip that works for me is to write out my outline using Microsoft Word and to format each of the headings with a number reference using the (Heading 1, 2, 3 etc. format options) and then generate a table of contents. This accomplishes two things; firstly it gives my work structure- when it is laid out like that it is easy to see the gaps or the repetition. The other bonus is that I have accomplished something tangible.
Reading what I have written out loud helps me identify any missing words or interruptions in the flow of thought.
I can’t emphasize how invaluable I find it to have someone critically review my work before any submission. A second pair of eyes will spot mistakes and offer a fresh perspective particularly if I have been spending a significant amount of time with the material.
And finally, I look at deadlines as my friends; it gives me a target time to stop.

Dr. John Cullen

My Top Tips for Writing
There is nothing more motivating for an academic writer than seeing your work published in a peer-reviewed journal for the first time.  Each subsequent publication adds to the sense of motivation that you have to keep writing and submitting your work.  The problem for most people, though, is building the momentum to get started writing and submitted.  There are a couple of ways to get around this at the outset of your writing ‘career’. 

1.      Write book reviews.  Even though book reviews do not count as full peer-reviewed publications per se, you still get to make a contribution to your community while getting your name in print and adding a first set of entries in the ‘published work’ section of your CV.  And, of course, free books are always nice!  Most publications have a book review section, and although they often solicit book reviews from high-profile writers, many are very happy to receive offers to review from practicing librarians.  Seek out the editorial board link on your favourite journal and offer your services.  Many also provide lists of books that they have received for review, so you can offer to critique specific texts that are attractive to you. 

2.      Write brief communications.  Many academic writers are put off by the thoughts of having to write up to 10,000 words for an article in a peer-reviewed journal.  However, some journals publish very short articles which explore initial stages of research, theoretical developments in progress or initial findings of large scale research.  I’ve recently had one of these accepted for publication in a library journal which was less that 1200 words long! 

Michelle Dalton

My Top Tips for Writing

Write little and often
The hardest thing about writing is getting started. Writing often, even if it is only a little amount, can really help cultivate the habit. When you are already comfortable with and used to writing, it feels a lot less intimidating to have to try and put something on a blank page. I have found blogging regularly has made writing journal articles and papers a lot easier because I now write more fluently. Schedule a few set times per week and stick to it. For the first while it might feel awkward, but after that it becomes a habit. Tools like Write for Ten can be useful. If you would like to write a guest blog post for Libfocus contact us through

Pay attention to where you want to get published
Don't just write a paper; write a paper for a specific journal. This means looking at the author guidelines, analysing the style of articles that get accepted, the typical weighting of different sections (e.g. does the journal tend to publish papers with detailed methods sections, or is the main focus on the discussion) before you even start to write. This will help ensure your submission is a better fit with what the editor and journal is looking for, and that you have a better chance of being accepted.

Feedback, feedback, feedback
I truly believe feedback is the single biggest thing that has improved my writing. Whether it is through peer review, co-authors, library colleagues or other sources, all kinds of feedback are incredibly valuable and can give you a new perspective on your work. I have found that getting people outside your discipline to read your work can really help with aspects like clarity and structure. 

My Top Tips for Writing
Make the Time Necessary for Academic Writing
There are never enough hours in the day but try and create a window at the weekend or an evening during the week. Keep a note pad to capture inspiration as and when it comes to you. I’ve jotted down ideas on the back of an envelope waiting in the supermarket queue. Post-its have also come in handy ;-)
Take Advantage of Available Supports
I’ve attended residential writer retreats and shorter courses organised by my institution. Here we had the necessary structure and environment to learn practical writing strategies. It also provided a ‘safe’ environment to test ideas, share writing block frustrations and gain useful tips from fellow writers.
Look for Opportunities to Disseminate Your Research
If you’ve never published, start small and submit something to a practitioner based publication such as SCONUL Focus. It could be about a new project in your library or an interdepartmental initiative. Does your organisation have a newsletter? That can be a great way to publicise the library’s role. Book reviews are a nice way to dip your toe in the water. Also, think about a guest post for a library blog – in recent years there’s been a notable increase in the number of MLIS and graduate student blogs - they’re usually delighted to give a platform to new voices. If you’ve formed a natural working relationship with an academic colleague and share similar views, talk to them about writing up your experiences.
Know Your Audience
As your confidence grows, consider academic journals. Read the ‘Journal Aims’ section and get a feel for the types of topics it covers. It’s important to know your audience and keep this in mind as you write your piece. Finally, don’t be afraid to tweak a conference paper and make it fit for publication in a journal. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day.

My Top Tips for Writing
What’s your angle? 

There are no new topics, just new angles. Most topics have been written about. Why would a journal be interested in your article on a particular topic? The answer to that is that you are writing in a particular context: generally the context of your own library and experiences. You are describing a topic or event through your lens and hopefully will bring new ideas/insights to the topic.
Who is your audience and what is your purpose?
An article for a practice-based journal will take a completely different shape to an article for a peer-reviewed journal. You need to know, before you begin writing, whether your article will be 2,000 words (fairly normal for a practice-based article), or in excess of 5,000 (normal for a peer-reviewed article). You also need to know the style of the journal and the submission requirements. Once you are clear in your own mind who the audience for the article is, identify a journal and send a query e-mail to the editor.
Why use an outline?
Most academic writers work from an outline. It allows you view the structure of an article at a glance; helps sift and eliminate ideas, and allows you work on different sections at a time. Writing a 5,000 word article can be daunting. Breaking it into sections can make the process more manageable. Writing is not a linear process. Most scientific writers start with the results section first. Start with the section you feel you know the most about and work from there.
Where can I find out more?
There are more suggestions in my article HINTS on Writing for Publication
I’ve based the article
The Academic Writing Toolkit on workshops on academic writing which I run on a regular basis. There’s an extensive bibliography on academic writing, which I compiled, on the My Publications/Presentations section of this blog. Remember though, that to write you have to begin writing, rather than reading about writing. Why not begin now?

Dr Alison Farrell
My Top Tips for Writing
My first tip is collaborate.  Following the wisdom of 'know thyself' I know that I am much more likely to complete a writing project on time and in a reasonable fashion if I am collaborating with someone else on it. While I find it very hard to ringfence the time for personal writing projects, even those of a professional nature, I am very unlikely to let someone else down if I have promised them a piece of writing or if I am writing a piece with them.  So, collaboration works for me.
Commit/Don't commit
This point follows from the previous one around collaboration.  Where I have made a commitment, in writing,  to someone else re a piece of writing, I rarely renege on that.  The 'don't commit' piece refers to how I begin most of my writing - I usually first draft with no commitment whatsoever to what I put on the page. I am happy to just draft and agree with myself in advance that after drafting I may well bin all that I have written. This takes the pressure off the writing, allows me to write quickly and to get a good deal on the page in a very short time.  In reality, what I find is that I generally don't dump the draft but use it and it gets me started.  
Mix it up
Because I do a great deal of writing of one kind or another for work I try to mix it up i.e. I try to change where I write, when I write, how I write (typing, long hand, voice recording) etc to help to keep it interesting.   I have also recently started exploring creative writing in order to see how it could contribute to my writing processes for work.  
Before I write I think a lot about the topic.  This may not always be dedicated thinking; it may be that I revisit the topic at different times and certainly in different settings.   I often bring an idea with me when I go running.  Much of my writing is done without a pen or a keyboard but in my head - mulling over ideas, structuring, even drafting.  If I have done enough thinking the initial first draft can be generated very quickly indeed and it is usually just based on 6 or 7 key words or phrases.
I work with wonderful writing tutors in the Writing Centre in NUI Maynooth and I have learned a great deal from them about writing and writing processes.  One very important thing that one of them reminded me about recently was joy and the joy of writing.  When I am struggling with writing, which I am occasionally, I try to remember the joy and the privilege of literacy and, corny though it sounds, it actually helps!
Aoife Lawton
My Top Tips for Writing
Writing is a state of mind. 
To get into this "state" a few environmental factors are required.  First a burning question:  something that has been on your mind recently or perhaps for a long time that you would like to explore and try to find an informed answer to.
Writing is personal.
Writing is a deeply personal thing and no two people will write the same way or with the same thoughts.  But everyone's opinion or view counts, writing is a way to express your view or thoughts in a shared and validated way - especially with peer review publishing.
Writing is an academic exercise.  
Our discipline (LIS) is a scientific one which lends itself to a scientific, rigorous approach.  In scientific circles - only two things count when it comes to research - methods and results.  You won't go wrong if you outline your thoughts for a paper using the IMRAD approach (Introduction, Methods, Results And Discussion).  Check the author guidelines on the journals’ website for full details.
It's never too early or too late to start.  Why you write is entirely up to you but it can help when you ask yourself this question from the outset - this can lead to an introduction to your paper and before you know it you've started writing - however don't be put off by knock backs (self-doubt, rejected papers, lack of peer support) - keep going.  We all learn by doing and by sharing knowledge.  There is something in the exercise of writing for both the writer and the reader…  Have you started yet?

Dr. Claire McGuinness

My Top Tips for Writing
Allow the Words to Flow
When I start a project, or if my writing has stalled, I find it energising to re-read pieces I’ve written before, to immerse myself in my writing style and to revisit the satisfaction of a successfully completed piece. Similarly, rather than face a blank page, I often begin a writing session by editing the previous day’s work, as this gives me a sense of progress, and encourages words and ideas to begin to flow freely.
In my experience, inspiration rarely strikes at a convenient time. So, I ensure that I always have the means to record an idea, whenever – or wherever - it pops up, usually just sending a very quick email or text to myself. The same applies when I’m engaged in writing a chapter or sub-section – sometimes I need to stop, and leap to another section to capture a concept or sentence that strikes me out of the blue. If this is how your mind works, don’t stop it – follow where it leads. I always start by constructing a full outline map of my project, using chapter headings and sub-headings, which allows me to flit around and insert content as ideas take shape.

Play the Game
Writing is personal and emotive, but I find that writing for publication demands a clear-eyed approach, and an objective shaping of “products.” For instance, adhering to publishers’ guidelines or reviewers’ comments often means editing out content I really wanted to include, or emphasising an unexpected angle. Writing book proposals requires me to objectively articulate how my book will appeal to its target market, and stand out from competitors. But I have learned to view this as a constructive process rather than a chore, moving me closer to seeing my words in print. Structure and feedback are key tools in my academic writer’s kit.

My Top Tips for Writing
I write because I enjoy it – at times the itch to hold a pen and write words in ink on paper is overwhelming.  In my personal writing there is a recurrent concern with whether I’m writing for myself, or others, and is it then a case of “burn after not-reading”?  Though I may never resolve this, it leads to the most vitalising aspect of non-diary writing– who is the intended audience? What do they already know and what is new? And what do I want them to feel? To think? What journey do I want them to take? Do I want to persuade, to convince, to inform?  Do I want to wryly amuse - or cause outright laughter? These questions shape the writing.
Causing almost physical pain, the warm-up to setting down words starts with immersing myself in the papers I’ve amassed.  Slowly the topic re-engages, suddenly I’m at the keyboard capturing thoughts.  At this stage there is no editing or reading back – start with where I am.  And sometimes this writing is a clearing-out that aids thinking and won’t make it into the final piece.
First reading of first writing is a pleasant discovery of coherence and clarity.  Usually too, it’s clear what’s missing.  I’ve both written to an outline, and not, but my preference is for play between a loose frame and allowing the structure emerge from the writing.  Much redrafting and close rewriting follows: that’s where the fun is. 
My top tip? Don’t wait for inspiration, make the decision to write.  Do the warm-up and give yourself up to the process.  It is all-consuming.  How could it be otherwise?

Terry O’Brien
My top tips for writing

  • Co-writing - writing can be lonely so co-authoring is a great way to counteract this, in addition to fresh perspective, and the comfort of doing things as a pair (or even team writing 2+.
  • Write for internal publications for profile and for confidence. Most 3rd level have Research support units or Library newsletters that produce inhouse and are a good introduction to writing for academic audience
  • Writing for the web is completely different and requires much sharper, personal, unambiguous content and current or topical language - I think it is better for opinion or critical pieces
  • Posters are a good process for early career or visually inclined researchers.
  • Presenting at conference or seminars can be half the job of writing an article and can help in getting the piece published. I think editors generally look favourably on pieces that have been presented at conference. The trick is to turn it into a readable piece quickly and while it is fresh
  • Force yourself to write by sending in abstracts - if accepted you then have to push yourself to fulfill your commitment.
  • Not very article has to be blindingly original - whats important is a fresh perspective that has meaning and applicability
  • Get someone you trust to edit or review your work pre-submission and your references - this can be very time consuming and if the effort is made early, it looks good and makes the editors job easier.
  • Look at the journal editorial board and background and try and match up  to the approach of the journal - case studies, action research, practice, policy, pilots etc.
  • Submit a generic email before you submit an abstract - get some direction or guidance to know if you are in the right area.
  • Don't intentionally submit with a view to citation or impact (unless this is specifcially required for research or study purposes) - if the article is good enough or interesting enough, it will find an audience; that said make sure your abstract has the right and relevant keywords.
  • Cross or inter-disciplinary writing is difficult but will increase chances of publication. Try and work with people outside your LIS comfort zone and look wider than LIS.
  • There are lots but I particularly like Library Journal and think that From the Bell Tower and The Annoyed Librarian are essential reading.

Dr Clare Thornley
My Top Tips for Writing
Getting it done
My most productive times are when I manage to write ‘little and often’ and I find early in the day is the best time to do this. When you start work, ask yourself if you could delay looking at your email for 30 minutes, and get some writing done instead.  Another way of grabbing time is to use alarms. If you have a meeting coming up in 45 minutes set an alarm for 40 minutes. You can then fully immerse yourself in your writing and know that you’ll still stop in time.
Dealing with peer review
Firstly, accept that this will not be easy. Who likes to be criticised?  I find it most effective to allow myself a ‘rant’ about any perceived unfairness, unkindness etc. of the comments and then buckle down and get on with addressing them.  Also remember it is peer review which means the reviewers are people just like you and they may not always be right ( though often they are!).  One co-author gave me the tip of including a document on re-submission showing how you had addressed peer review comments and, if not, why not.  
Deciding to write
If you are committed to writing then all the stresses of getting it done and dealing with peer review will still be less stressful than not writing at all. I find it useful to remind myself that I choose to write and I just have to get on with the discipline of writing and then improving my work.  If for any reason you really can’t write then decide not to write for a certain period of time and then review the decision after a set time.  This is much better than stressing about not writing but still not actually doing it.  So either decide to write and get on with it or decide not to write and allow yourself a break.
Inspiring librarians
If you want interesting stories about combining the career of a librarian with producing excellent writing then Philip Larkin is a wonderful read.
Larkin, Philip. 2002. Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982. Faber & Faber.

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