For various reasons I’ve been thinking about what holds people back from submitting/publishing their work. Fear of criticism comes up a lot. As if somehow if someone doesn’t like it, or disagrees with it, it means you shouldn’t have published it, or the work was wasted or something.
We are all searching for truth.
That’s what this whole academic enterprise is about. Setting aside epistemological arguments about whether truth is singular or plural, I suspect we can all agree that we aren’t going to get to some final definitive truth. The best we will do is get closer to it. (If you’ve ever done any calculus, I like to think of this as analogous to the concept of limit in mathematics.)
When you publish, you are not setting out a definitive, incontestable, truth. Someone will disagree with you. Someone will take issue with one aspect of what you have said, or how you came to that conclusion, or something. And someone will agree with you AND they will want to know what that means for … [some other issue they are interested in, which may or may not be something you care about]. You publish to make all those things happen.
You are publishing a contribution to knowledge.
You are adding one piece that brings us closer to truth. You are inspiring other people to work on this more, either to extend what you’ve done, or to demonstrate that their approach to this question is better, or something.
You want there to be a reaction to your work. A reaction means people have read it. If they communicate that reaction, it means they thought it was important enough to take time to respond. While unqualified praise is nice to have, it’s not quite the same as really having an impact on how someone else sees a question.
Yes, some people will hate it. And some people will communicate their criticism in ways that are not at all kind or productive. You can’t control that. But don’t let those people prevent you from making your contribution.
You aren’t trying to win an argument. You are contributing to an ongoing conversation.
Originally published in the Academic Writing Studio Newsletter, July 15, 2016.