How sharing my data has changed how I write

Image by Edar on Pixabay
Image by Edar on Pixabay

The connection is not obvious, for sure. Want to know more?

I have begun sharing my manually annotated corpora in open access at a very early stage of my PhD, two years before completion and as I hadn’t published anything on it (here for why in French, here for a holistic view of what counts as publication in my view). Thus, I had almost no experience in academic writing when I decided to share my data.

What I have learned in the process has been immensely helpful to my academic writing, in ways I couldn’t have suspected. Keep reading if dealing with the unknown, making the process visible, and being publicly vulnerable make you curious.

Dealing with the unknown

First, I have projected myself into a world I knew nothing of—annotation formats, digital methods, open access—for me, a linguist trained rather traditionally in a philology tradition (close-reading of texts). As if it wasn’t enough, I then decided to put everything online, on an open repository (under a CC BY 4.0 license), although this was the first time I had really gathered and annotated data for linguistic purposes. I didn’t know what would happen—or even if anything would happen (would anyone even be interested? what if the annotation was faulty?). So I just put myself out there.

What does it have to do with academic writing?

Every time we jump into a new writing project, we’re facing with new challenges we cannot always anticipate and may become aware of only once the project is completed and gets feedback.

For example, in the first release of the corpora, I hadn’t made the contrastive aspect of my research salient, and what it implies in terms of (not) coding. Put differently, I have chosen not to code some variables that could have played a role in the analysis of the French parliamentary discourse because the German and the British data didn’t offer me the possibility to code the same things. What I didn’t fully anticipate, however, is that the annotation frameworks may be used by people who would not consider them as a whole project with three interrelated parts, but as independent corpora.

When I wrote my first book, knowing that people will read what serves their (research) interests at one given moment (and not necessarily get an overview of the full project) has helped me conceive each chapter as a story that can be read both by itself and as part of the whole.

We use data and process information in ways that are meaningful to our own project (and not the one of the author’s!). When we share data and ideas, we then have to accept that only parts of what we share will be received—the ones that resonate with what others are looking for.

Maybe quite an expected finding (your audience is not the same as you), but a very important discovery, that I had the chance to make very early on as I engaged in the process of sharing data at a very early stage.

Making the process visible

Looking back, sharing my data was only the first step in making research as a process visible. Because I have acknowledged very early in my academic career that the research process is non-linear, sometimes confusing and frustrating, I have also been able, quite soon, to accept that I may have published things I want to revise or rephrase, and have accepted this as an inherent component of my writing practice.

What does it have to do with academic writing?

I would say it has both helped me engage with my writing in a more dispassionate way — it may change, this is where I am now and it’s okay — and in a more intense way — let’s go for this, you have this idea now, it may be a different one later, so make it happen!

Showing research in the making can take many forms, and I am convinced that it does not mean that you publish every one of your drafts in open access, for example. Ideas to adopt a more comprehensive view on your writing practice?

  • upload successive versions of the same paper on open repositories (for instance before and after peer review)
  • share your teaching materials (some of mine are here), including syllabi: what you read and discuss also forms what you write, so sharing parts of it also helps connect your activities more closely
  • tweet about some first intuitions, questions, references (yes, academic dialogue also happens on Twitter: here for an overview in French, here for some tips on science communication)
  • formulate first research questions on your blog (some would advise you not to do it because “ideas get stolen” but I don’t really follow this mindset, I may write about it one day…)

Being publicly vulnerable

Finally, releasing my annotated corpora in open access early on also meant acknowledging that everything was work in progress, and that most of the corpora had not been (yet) analyzed. As I explain here (from slide 12 on), the annotated corpora I put online were far from perfect. Recognizing this also meant:

  • agreeing to publish a version of the corpus that may be only temporary and/or subject to modifications
  • accepting to have made mistakes
  • ideally, relying on the community to let me know about errors

So far so good. But isn’t it exactly how you end up not writing, because this is all so stressful?!

What does it have to do with academic writing?

Well, it is (horribly stressful). Every time I write something, there is a part of me that secretly hopes that no one will read it. This is also what I’m describing in this tweet:

My solution? There is none. I just truly believe (right now, and it may change, and I may write something else to express this differently) that demystifying academic writing not only means living the writing process through your body (if this is something that talks to you), but also the other side of it: the reception. I’m not only “thrilled” and “delighted” to share that my paper or my book is coming out, but also scared. Because I accept that what we write, and how we write it, means a lot to me.

I’m scared. But I’m not scared to say that I am. So this is still something, I guess?

Cite this article as: Naomi Truan, "How sharing my data has changed how I write," in Ici et là, 24/03/2021, https://icietla.hypotheses.org/1929.

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