Writing is like running

Image by Remaztered Studio from Pixabay

February is usually the month that I start thinking about running again. I do most of my running in the warmer seasons but I start out on treadmills in late winter/early spring to make my first outdoor runs of the year bearable and, theoretically, to prepare from some of the springtime 5K races in case I want to actually meet that particular New Year’s resolution for once. Also by February I need to introduce a little more variety to my routine between the indoor workout videos on DailyBurn, FitnessBlender, and PopSugar (as much as I love those platforms!).

I think a lot about the similarities between writing and exercise in general but running in particular. I write a lot on this blog about creative writing in a general sense but don’t spend a lot of time discussing my own relationship to writing. So as I gear up to restart my running habit, I thought I’d share some of where my thinking goes on this particular topic.

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In defense of “finding and evaluating information”

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

It used to be that if I found myself in a situation where I had the opportunity to give an elevator speech about information literacy to a non-expert, I would start by telling them that information literacy basically meant teaching people how to find, evaluate, and use information. It was a convenient sound byte that succinctly summed up how the ACRL Standards described information literacy. It was also easy for someone who had never heard of information literacy before to understand.

But I felt dirty saying it. Information literacy, I knew in my heart of hearts, was far more interesting and valuable and important than this overly simplified description made it sound. Describing information literacy in this way only perpetuated the misconception that it was a basic or even remedial skill. Something you only need an hour or so to effectively teach.

Then the Framework came along and offered me a new definition of information literacy. That new definition captured the nuances of information literacy much better than the one reflected in the Standards. It was also a paragraph long and not easy to condense into a concise little speech. At least, not in a way that would adequately convey what it meant to someone who was new to the topic.

So I continued to hold my nose and use the same old description. Information literacy, I told people, is about finding, evaluating, and using information.


Or so I thought.

Recently,  I found myself sitting in a meeting with two colleagues, whom I respect very much, and a non-library faculty member who had long been an important advocate of our IL program. We were brainstorming a list of information literacy resources the faculty member could bring to her department but we needed a way to describe what the resource was about that these other faculty members, who were very smart people but less familiar with information literacy, could easily understand. One that was free of library jargon.

The words “finding, evaluating, and using information” came out of my mouth. My librarian colleagues quickly shot me down because this description, as I myself had argued many times, oversimplified information literacy.

Strangely, I found myself defending it.

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“Your literature review is sparse and full of self-citation”: Content analyses in LIS

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

So a few months ago I submitted the follow-up to my C&RL article from last year for review. This one is an analysis of LIS literature to try to determine how prevalent the study of research is in this field. The feedback I got from reviewers was helpful and I recently submitted a heavily revised (hopefully improved) version of the article. Two pieces of feedback I received on the original, though, stuck out. Both were from the same reviewer and they gave me a lot to think about.

The first was when the reviewer highlighted a line from my abstract that read: “The study of research is prevalent in the LIS field.” The reviewer felt that this was a truism and that it should be removed. I had to look up what this means. It turns out a truism is a statement that’s so obviously true that it basically doesn’t mean anything.

The second was about my lit review, which the reviewer felt was “sparse” and “skewed to self-citation”(1).

I had to do a lot of work in my revision to try to untangle that second comment and in doing so I found myself also untangling the other.

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Selected Resources: “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy”

You may not be aware of this, but every year the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee puts out two lists of Selected Resources, one focused on teaching methods and instructional design and the other focused on assessment. These lists feature articles and other materials that have been published the previous year that are worthy of note. It’s a resource that doesn’t get as much use or attention as it should, so I’ve decided to assign myself the homework of making my way through each item on last year’s lists and write about it here.

Today we’re all about “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy” by Eamon C. Tewell.

Disclosure: I am currently a member of the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee, which selects and evaluates materials for the Selected Resources lists. I played a role in the selection process and reviewed several of the items that ended up on the final list as part of that process.

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Studying Research: where am I and what is this place?

So recently, I noticed a significant uptick in views of this blog and also new subscribers. I suspect this has something to do with the recent Carterette Series webinar that I gave last week, “Research is Not a Basic Skill”  but whatever the reason, I wanted to take just a brief minute to welcome any newcomers. I’m excited you’re here!

I’ve been writing this blog for about a year. So far, I’ve used this space to share some of my thinking on the research-as-subject/contextual nature of research thread of my work as it continues to develop. I’ve also done some musing on the role of research in creative writing as I conduct a study to discover whether and how books on creative writing talk about this subject. And I have some posts on teaching and librarianship and the occasional silly pop culture topic just for fun.

I usually post twice a week on Tuesday and Thursdays, so keep an eye out for new information. In the meantime, here is a list of past posts (in no particular order) that are personal favorites of mine and which might help you get to know what this blog is about:

It’s significant that popular books on creative writing don’t talk about research

On NYT’s textbook story and the Our Virginia incident

Teaching evaluating sources from a research-as-subject perspective

Finding my research path: Taking a big swing

Magicians and libraries that aren’t libraries

Research begins with curiosity

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is secretly about the ethical use of information

Using the annotated bibliography as the “establishing shot”

A whole lot of “no duh”: The role of curiosity in creativity

Research is not a basic skill (neither is writing)

Defining research

The Ballad of Purdue OWL

There was a conversation recently on one of the library listservs concerning recent changes to Purdue OWL, a commonly-recommended site that in the past has always provided credible and accurate citation guidance as well as some great academic writing advice. Apparently, the site was bought by (or is now in partnership with) Chegg, a company that basically encourages students to use AI to do research and write for them because clearly that’s the best way to actually learn anything.

Apparently this change happened almost a year ago but some of us (including me) are just realizing it now.

The librarians in the e-mail chain had some good alternatives to recommend, including Excelsior OWL and some others. I know we have a pretty good Citation Guide at my own library that’s kept pretty up to date.

Still. I’m in mourning.

There is no user-friendly way to learn about citation. There just isn’t. The actual publication manuals are labyrinthine. The sites that generate citations for the users don’t actually teach them anything about how to cite and are also inaccurate. Purdue OWL was the one resource I could point students to and be able to say, “This is a credible source of citation information that’s relatively easy to understand.”

This was a resource I shared with students at the reference desk, in my classroom, and in my side gig as an online writing tutor. Whenever a student came to me with a question about citation, it was the first place I looked for an answer to recommend.

To be clear, the citation information on the site still seems good. The many advertisements that follow you around (including everyone’s favorite: the autoplaying video) don’t necessarily change that. But now that it’s attached to a site like Chegg, it’s hard to recommend it without at least some reservation. Because students might come for the citation help, but they’ll stay for the promise of homework assistance that looks an awful lot like cheating.

More than that, though, Purdue OWL was my own go-to resource for citation help.

Generally, I use APA to cite because that’s the citation style I’m most familiar with by virtue of being an online writing tutor for a graduate program where APA was the standard. Some library journals use APA, including the first few that I published in. But a lot of the big ones use Chicago style.

I did not take this into account when writing my article “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study.” If you take a look at that article, you’ll see that there are probably around 80 sources cited. Originally, all of those citations were in APA style because the decision to submit it to College & Research Libraries, which uses Chicago style, came later in the process. Before submitting it for review, I had to convert all 80 or so citations to Chicago, a style I had never used before. And I had to do it by hand.

In short, FML.

While the submission guidelines for the journal are helpful in showing what they are looking for in terms of citation, I still stumbled on many questions along the way. Questions that I answered using Purdue OWL.

This is a story I tell students often. First, because it’s hilarious seeing their reactions to the idea of citing 80 sources when they are daunted by idea of citing 3-5. Second, because it shows that I’m recommending them tools that I use myself. And third, because I think it helps them to know that even as someone who’s required to do research and publish as part of my job, I don’t have all of the rules memorized and I probably never will. So it’s okay if they don’t either.

The change at Purdue OWL doesn’t prevent me from still being able to do this, obviously. But it’s just one more asterisk to affix to another on a rapidly diminishing list of learning resources that could be recommended without reservation.


Beyond 10 Books: Thoughts on Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

I picked up Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle after reading another book in the same series, Plot & Structure. In large part, my interest was more personal than anything else. Description is something I’ve always struggled with in my own writing and I was intrigued by the idea of an entire book that covered the topic in as much detail as James Scott Bell covered plot and structure in his book. To that end, I definitely found some useful stuff including character profile worksheets and plot graphs that get you thinking not only about when and where your stories take place but what time of day and what the weather is like, even if that information is never mentioned in the scene itself.

What I also found, to my surprise, was probably more information on the role of research in creative writing than I’ve found in any writing book so far.

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