Reviewed by Ian Lipke
In years gone by, before the osmotic model of learning became fashionable, when senior academic staff actually taught their students, and tutors were engaged merely to assist the teaching staff, such a book as that which Simon Clews has written (but geared to revealing the secrets of efficient academic research), would have been of limited value. These days initiating the neophyte scholar into research methodology is a hit and miss affair.
Clews opens the door to allow the foetid air to escape and a new freshness permeate the thinking of at least that group of scholars who have something to say but need help in saying it. His book has a three-fold aim: showing the new academic how to write the book or article in the first place, how to present it to colleagues or a publisher who has zero interest in it, and then how to make his/her name known widely. ‘Publish or perish’ still holds true but is coupled these days with the adage ‘be visible or vanish’ (89).
Clews fosters the view that he knows what he is about. The first clue appears on the cover, a production of instant, favourable impact. His lettering staggers across the page like a drunken farmer’s fence-line. The colours are varied and garish, and the arrows linking the parts of most importance suggest continuity, as one would expect in a reasoned argument. Clews makes a point early in his book, in pride of place really, that the world of universities is not the world of reality. How can it be when its inhabitants ‘prefer to speak in jargon or acronyms, and where no-one seems to be able to get by without at least four pointless meetings a day’ (4)? His book hopes to redress some of the inadequacy by clarifying what wider audience gets to hear about a scholar’s research.
The book contains the basics, discussing them early. Why do scholars need to write better, who are they writing for, what is it they’re intent on saying, how do they intend to treat their audience, where will they meet, and finding a writer’s voice are all addressed. Clews has a comfortable, companionable tone when explaining what a new academic desires to know. The pages to page 64 contain the most down-to-earth, necessary, and comprehensive collection of hints to assist the readers’ understanding of the writing-craft that distinguishes the English language.
How to conduct themselves at a speaking engagement, build a profile, strengthening ‘googleability’, working with the media, publishing -traditional and self-driven – this book has important advice for any academic, new or dusty. With this author’s assistance, publishing new research just became a great deal less fearsome. That the book has been endorsed by so many leading academics gives one hope that the ivory tower door on the most ancient of universities might have creaked open for a brief moment.
One sparrow does not make a Spring, perhaps, but one idea can change the moment, one word of praise a view of Man. What, I wonder, can turn the eyes of academics from their confined, cultivated garden to the jungle wherein Earth dwells. This book can only boost their chances.
by Simon Clews
New South Books
$34.99; 240 pp