Free your inner writer: Strategies for writing engaging journal articles

Dr Hilary Hughes, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, QUT, offers advice for librarians seeking to write impactful and engaging articles for a professional journal.

Introduction

Most of us have an inner writer that we promise to let free ‘one day’ – why not today? As you plan your school library program, a key goal could be: write at least one article for a journal like Connections or the SCIS Blog.

This article considers the problem of how to write an impactful and engaging article for a professional journal? It offers library staff encouragement and practical strategies for setting out on the writing track. After highlighting the personal and professional benefits of writing for publication, it explains how to write articles that provide insight and enjoyment for readers. It also provides a simple model for a clearly structured article.

Benefits of writing for a journal

Writing for a journal brings many benefits, both personal and professional. As a creative outlet, writing can boost your own wellbeing and the greater good of school libraries. You can make a lasting impact by authoring an article that opens a window on contemporary school libraries. Through your article you can report and explain current professional practices, highlight positive outcomes, debate challenges, and perhaps influence further innovation (Buzzeo, 2011; Hibner & Kelly, 2017). You can demonstrate how librarians are energetic, forward-looking, thoughtful, socially-minded professionals (and help banish the tired stereotypes!)

The catchphrase ‘publish or perish’ indicates the importance of writing for the sustainability of the profession and your own career, whether in schools or higher education (Schaberg, 2016). Library staff are often abuzz with creative ideas and make significant contributions to student learning and wellbeing, yet so often these seem to go unnoticed. By writing about your innovative library programs and services, and their positive outcomes, you raise general awareness of the value of the librarian role and offer models for other librarians to follow.

Good journal articles get people thinking and talking. They can be a powerful form of advocacy that showcases school library activities and their benefits for students and the whole school community.

From a personal perspective: “Publishing is proof that you take your profession seriously, that you give it time and thought, and that you are an active and engaged participant in your profession” (Buzzeo, 2011, p. 13). Through journal articles, you can reach a wide audience beyond your immediate school. They allow you to value–add work you’ve already done, for example by reworking a university assignment, report or workshop presentation. Through your writing, you may become known as an expert on a particular topic(s). Building a professional profile in this way may broaden your employment options and lead to invitations to speak at conferences or present workshops (Rankin, 2018).

The process of writing articles supports your professional development. It can provide a focus for reflection on your librarian practice and improve your ability and confidence to argue a convincing proposal. Writing is also a great basis for collaboration. Depending on the topic, you might write with other library staff, teaching colleagues, parents, academics or even students. The sharing of different information and viewpoints through collaborative writing could expand awareness of school libraries with co-authors beyond the library community.

Laptop and notepad

Write for insight and delight

Having set your writing resolution, what will you write about? Like a novelist, you can explore your experience and what is happening around you. No two librarians or libraries are the same, so you have plenty of material to draw upon which could include:

  • The design, implementation and evaluation of an innovative school library program
  • Evidence-based library practice – findings and implications
  • Selection and implementation of a new library management system
  • (Re)design of the library – process and outcomes

Aim to provide your readers with insight and delight, so that they gain new information or understanding, as well as enjoyment, from your article. The trick is to make the content interesting and relevant. An effective article goes beyond describing what you did and how to why you did it and ways it could be applied in other school contexts. The inclusion of real-life examples, vivid small stories or pithy quotes capture readers’ attention, while practical tips or a practice framework help them see the applicability of your findings. Well-presented photos and diagrams can further enliven a written piece.

A catchy title is great for grabbing readers’ interest, especially if it teases a little while still conveying the essence of the content. That is why Trent Dalton’s ‘Boy swallows universe’ (2018) is such a clever title. Closer to librarian territory, these two Connections article titles exemplify reader-enticing titles: ‘Even better than the real thing? Virtual and augmented reality in the school library’ and ‘Ten easy tips to be a library rockstar’. You can also be creative with section headings, as long as they are also indicative of the section content.

A well-signposted structure for the whole piece and clearly expressed line of argument is important for holding readers’ attention beyond the title and introduction. Like an inquiry learning project, it is generally effective to build the argument around an explicit question or problem statement. Developing an article outline before the writing begins helps maintain focus on the problem. Take care also to bookend the discussion with an interesting and informative introduction that sets the scene and indicates the purpose of the article, and a strong conclusion that explicitly summarises the main points and resolves the argument. Where possible, end the article on a high note to inspire readers. For example, this article concludes by proposing that: “As highlighted, writing journal articles can be an enjoyable creative activity that is personally and professionally rewarding”, rather than saying something similarly accurate but more negative like “Writing journal articles is challenging and producing publishable articles requires a great deal of hard work”.

Help readers navigate the article by presenting a brief overview of the content in the introduction that indicates the main sections or points covered. Meaningful section headings are also useful guides to the unfolding argument. Let each paragraph address one (only) main idea introduced with a topic sentence, i.e. a sentence that clearly signals what the paragraph is about. (For sample topic sentences, see the first sentence of this paragraph and the following one).

Judicious use of the literature adds weight to the article’s argument. A few well-chosen references, integrated into the discussion to support key points, generally have more impact than a string of ‘possibly relevant’ citations that tend to interrupt the flow. It is more meaningful to lead sentences with a concept rather than a citation. For example: “A library as incubator is a great opportunity for the space to facilitate learning by students and teachers that reflect their passions and interests” (South, 2017) is more compelling than would be: According to South (2017), “A library as incubator is …”. For professional and academic writing, accurate and consistent referencing is a hallmark of authoritative writing.   

For a journal like Connections, aim for a professional-scholarly tone. As a rule of thumb, avoid highfaluting academic jargon, especially if you are uncertain what particular terms mean. A clear and lively style, with short(-ish) logically linked sentences, is generally more effective for conveying new or complex ideas. For clarity and immediacy, active voice, first or third person, is generally preferable to passive voice, e.g.: The teacher-librarian (or I) conducted a survey, rather than A survey was conducted; The leadership team decided to fund the project, rather than It was decided to fund the project.

Some of the resources referenced below provide more extensive guidance of relevance to librarians about the writing process, including choosing and communicating with a journal, deciding the topic and crafting the title (de Castro,  2009; Hibner & Kelly, 2017; Murray, 2013; Rankin, 2018).

Free your inner writer

Now it is time to get creative! Rest assured that writing comes more easily to some people than others and always improves with practice. Try to think of it as a fun activity, as an opportunity to share and communicate with others, not as a daunting or dreary solitary task. You might find it helpful to set up a reciprocal arrangement with a critical friend or trusted colleague to read and provide constructive feedback on each other’s work, as suggestions rather than corrections (Dawson, 2017).

There is no right or wrong way to do the writing. Some people find it helpful to get into the habit of writing for half an hour each day at the same time, whereas others prefer longer periods when the mood takes them. If you find it hard to get going at the start of a writing session, try a few minutes of ‘free writing’, jotting down whatever comes into your head, to get the creative juices flowing (University of Richmond Writing Centre, n.d.). If you are still feeling ‘blocked’, allow yourself some time-out and try again later. Forcing yourself to write is generally counter-productive and unnecessarily frustrating.

Conclusion

This article has offered library staff well-proven strategies for writing impactful and reader-enticing journal articles. The key suggestion is to present intended readers with a clearly expressed and logically structured response to a well-defined question or problem statement. As highlighted, writing journal articles can be an enjoyable creative activity that is personally and professionally rewarding.

Learn more about how to write for SCIS at scis.edublogs.org/write-for-scis

A version of this article was first published in Scan, an online journal for educators: https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-38,-2019/free-your-inner-writer-strategies-for-writing-engaging-journal-articles
References

Highlights of Connections 103

Here are the highlights from Connections issue 103, which is now available online. You can also download a copy of the full-text PDF.

Reimagining the library landscape: an approach to school library design
Carey Baptist Grammar School recently rebuilt their middle and senior library. Anne Whisken outlines their library’s approach to designing learning spaces, ensuring all students’ needs are catered for.

Continue reading Highlights of Connections 103

Highlights of Connections 101

Here are the highlights from Connections issue 101, which is now available online. To download a PDF of the latest issue, please select this link.

Leadership is not optional – it’s a job requirement
In order to promote libraries as indispensable to the education community, the school library industry needs more leaders. Hilda Weisburg looks at how to step out of your comfort zone and into the leadership role.

Librarians in the digital age: experts in e-health
Susan Marshall explains how the school librarian’s role is central in developing students’ digital literacy and e-health, and introduces a free website to support online safety.

What do our students really want?
Megan Stuart, teacher librarian at Canterbury College, surveyed her students to discover what drew them into their resource centre — and what it could do to draw them in more.

Ebooks: to subscribe, or not to subscribe?
Teacher librarian at Singleton High School, Martin Gray, weighs the arguments for and against ebooks in schools.

Navigating the information landscape through collaboration
Elizabeth Hutchinson, Head of Schools’ Library Service in Guernsey, writes that information literacy is at the centre of student learning, making the role of library staff as important as ever.

Library catalogues and the World Wide Web: it takes two to tango
Nicole Richardson explores the way library catalogues engage with the World Wide Web to create a rich, interactive search experience.

Continue reading Highlights of Connections 101

Highlights of Connections 100

Connections

Here are the highlights from the 100th issue of Connections, which is now available online. To download a PDF of the latest issue, please select this link.

Looking back: school library catalogues and the online revolution
Ex-SCIS manager Lance Deveson looks back on teacher librarianship over the past 40 years, including the introduction of automated cataloguing and the early days of SCIS and Connections.

Leigh Hobbs on school libraries and storytelling
SCIS speaks to Australian Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs about his experiences in school libraries, children’s literature, storytelling, and creating characters.

Collector, curator or collaborator?
Jennie Bales, adjunct lecturer at Charles Sturt University, celebrates the collaborative ethos inherent in school library professionals.

Guerilla book fair: getting staff involved in your school library
UK-based school librarian Lucas Maxwell recommends ways to encourage teachers to make use of school libraries.

The future role of the teacher librarian
As the scope of information and technology continues to expand, Dr James Herring considers what impact this will have on the role of teacher librarians.

Let’s talk seriously about series
SCIS cataloguer Julie Styles explains the challenges of cataloguing items within series.

We welcome any feedback you have about this issue, or any ideas you have for future Connections articles. Please email connections@esa.edu.au.

Happy reading!

What’s happening in your school library?

Connections

We recently mailed out Connections 97 to schools in Australia. In this issue, we included an article by Chris Harte about St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School which has received great feedback. The article showcases the wonderful things librarians Jackie and Megan are doing in their makerspace, and provides tips for people eager to follow in their footsteps.

Following the interest in this article, we’re reaching out to all of you to see if you are doing exciting and innovative things in your library that you would be willing to share with our readers. This will be a great way to share what’s happening in Australian and New Zealand school libraries and inspire others.

If you have a story to share that may be of benefit to the wider school library community – whether it’s organising your library’s collections in an exciting way, doing innovative things to engage students with their learning, or doing interesting things to promote literacy, STEM subjects, or your library itself – we’d love to hear about it.

Please don’t hesitate to send us an email at connections@esa.edu.au if you’re interested in writing an article for Connections.

Highlights of Connections 94

Here are the highlights from the latest issue of Connections, which is now available online.

Story Dogs
© 2015 Story Dogs

Lending an ear for literacy
Leah Sheldon and Janine Sigley share how their not-for-profit organisation, Story Dogs, uses Dog Teams to engage students struggling with literacy in Australian schools.

Addressing reconciliation in a school setting
Teacher librarian Jan Poona examines reconciliation and how she has been able to address this in the library. She also includes an excerpt from a chapter she wrote for Reconciliation and Australian Social Work (Magpie Goose Publishing, 2015) titled ‘Teacher librarians, SCIS, and reconciliation’.

Promoting literature to students
Based in New Zealand as a literacy consultant, Bob Docherty offers his knowledge and passion for children’s literature to promote reading and literacy in schools.

Technology
Image credit: Chelsea Wright

Engaging students with new and emerging technologies
Chelsea Wright, Library and Learning Resources Leader at Salesian College Rupertswood VIC, discusses how a library-run Tech and Gaming Club can benefit students and schools, as well as achieve top-level library objectives. She also outlines a number of suggested activities.

From the desk of a cataloguer
SCIS cataloguer Julie Styles reviews some cataloguing decisions made by SCIS, and presents some of the issues librarians face when downloading records from other catalogues and using them to supplement SCIS records.

Connections 90

The latest issue of the SCIS journal, Connections, has been sent to all schools, and is available online.
Highlights of Connections 90 include:-

Taking Note of Nonfiction
Peter Macinnis, who presented the ‘Clayton’s list’ for the Eve Pownall award for information books, shares his insights into what makes a good information book.

Boori Monty Pryor with Dr Anita Heiss at BlackWords Symposium 2012.
Boori Monty Pryor with Dr Anita Heiss at BlackWords Symposium 2012.  courtesy of Blackwords

Learning Online: MOOCs for library staff
Martin Gray, a teacher librarian from Singleton High School, looks at how he used MOOCs to further his professional learning with two very different online courses.

BlackWords: Celebrating writers and storytellers
Writer and activist, Dr. Anita Heiss looks at BlackWords and AustLit, which are freely available for schools, and how they can assist in embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures into the curriculum.

Following IndigenousX
SCIS’s Michael Jongen looks at the IndigenousX curated Twitter account and how it can help educators to hear a diverse range of authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.

Bring the Teachers In: Enticing teachers into the library
Library Manager at Wellington College, New Zealand, Brett Moodie, wanted to boost the profile of the library within the school and support the learning and information needs of staff.

 

Connections 89

The term 2 issue of Connections is published online at the SCIS website and features the following articles of interest to school library staff.

Eric and one of his beloved elephants. Original artwork by Andrew Joyner. Used with permission.
Eric and one of his beloved elephants. Original artwork by
Andrew Joyner. Used with permission.

Once upon a story time
Thousands of Australians will celebrate National Simultaneous Story time on 21 May, Laura Armstrong reports that Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner will be this year’s featured author and illustrator.

Libraries and metadata in a sea of information
Alan Manifold explains why as libraries, metadata and books evolve he thinks that libraries of the future may have a closer relationship with metadata than with books.

Growing, harvesting, preparing, sharing and learning
Bev Laing from the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation discusses teaching resources related to sustainability and provides the context within education for sustainability and the persuasive context of a kitchen garden.

The Arts and Geography
Free practical digital resources that support the Australian Curriculum in the Arts and Geography highlighted by Gabrielle England from Education Services Australia.

New and revised subject headings
SCIS systems librarian Ben Chadwick looks at the SCIS subject headings, the 2014 SCIS authority files update and updates to Schools Online Thesaurus. A new set of special order files make it easier to download Scootle records into school library systems.

Stories from the stacks
Petra Stene and Judith Westaway show how they used weeded and recycled books to decorate Margaret River Senior High School Library, Western Australia.

Connections 88

Connections 88
Connections issue 88

Heading into holidays? Now you have some time, catch up on some professional reading. In case you missed it – the term 1 issue of Connections is published online at the SCIS website and features the following articles of interest to school library staff.

Literacy loves storytelling

Dr. Pam Macintyre looks at the role of oral language in the development of successful literacy and suggests how schools can foster this in programmes such as In Other Words at Dinjerra Primary School, Melbourne. Pam is a lecturer in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne. She is editor of the quarterly review Journal Viewpoint: on books for young adults and sits on the 100 Story Building board of directors.

Teacher associations support Australian Curriculum

Education Services Australia has partnered with Australian teachers’ associations to develop practical, classroom-related digital resources that are aligned to the Australian Curriculum. In this article Gabrielle England provides an overview of free online resources available for Phase 1 Learning Areas.

Miss Scarlet in the library with the smart phone

Joanna Hare provides a handy how-to-mobile photography guide for librarians looking at practical uses for libraries, some basic tips and apps.

Inanimate Alice

Inanimate Alice is a fictional story designed to develop student’s digital literacy skill. It is linked through Scootle to many of the Australian Curriculum guidelines for English and literacy.

School library collections survey 2013

In 2013 SCIS conducted an online survey of Australian school library staff to find out more about the state of school library collections. Clare Kennedy reports on the survey results.

New and revised subject headings: Bible and Qur’an

List of the new and revised subject headings for the Bible and Qur’an approved by the SCIS Information Services Standards Committee following implementation of Resource Description and Access (RDA).

Connections 87

You can now read the latest issue of Connections at the SCIS website.

This issue features the following articles of interest to school library staff.

Early Harvest: A literary journal made by children

Sofia Makin looks at a Melbourne after school programme, Early Harvest, which engages primary aged students in the process of creating a literary magazine for children.

Gold Coast study links school libraries and teacher librarians to literacy

Dr Hilary Hughes presents a recent study of Principals which provides a snapshot of school libraries in the Gold Coast Queensland, and their positive impact on learning and literacy.

alisoncolpoys
Titles from the Australian Children’s Classics series published by Penguin Group (Australia), 2012/2013, Australia. Photograph by Allison Colpoys

Educating the educators: a disaster resilience education project

Heather Bailie worked with Australian Red Cross and the Australian Emergency Management Institute to develop a programme to improve  teacher confidence in teaching disaster resilience.

The future of the school library catalogue

Pru Mitchell considers the future of school library catalogues and cataloging standards, linked data and the semantic web.

How to judge a book by its cover

Meelee Soorkia talks to Allison Colpoys about children’s book design and illustration and the new Australian Children’s Classics series.

You can read online or download the full edition.