Writing Skills Resources

Will reviewers get why your work matters?

Jan 19, 2023

Will reviewers get why your work matters?

I hear versions of this concern all the time. It sounds like:

  • I’m a ____ type of scholar. Funders don’t like us.  
  • I take a very different approach than others. Does that mean I won’t have a shot?
  • I’m not in a hot area. Should I even bother trying.

I get your concerns. I was struggling with similar feelings myself recently. During our holiday party at work, I lamented to my colleague, “For promotion to full, will reviewers understand why my book is a scholarly endeavor? Will they “get” why this is an academic effort?”

My colleague turned to look me in the eyes. “Make them understand. That’s your job.” 

This was a lightbulb moment for me. Standing next to the (very delicious) mashed potato bar, my colleague reminded me of the most fundamental writing advice that matters. 

It’s always your job to help reviewers understand why your work matters. No one else’s. Reviewers will never “get” you without a lot of help from you. But this is a hard skill that takes practice. 

One strategy to try immediately is start tracking your impact. You need numbers, data, anything you can use to make a case for your work. For example, look at the difference between these two sentences:

Not making a case: The Grant Writing Guide is a scholarly endeavor meant to build a corpus of grant writing knowledge.

Making a case: The Grant Writing Guide is a scholarly endeavor that involved 100 expert interviews and that required 145 hours of research time to build a corpus of grant writing knowledge.

It’s a subtle shift, but adding numbers makes for a stronger case. Here are more examples of ways you can track your impact:

  • Plan to collect data. Lindsay Masland uses a link to collect numbers when she shares teaching materials
  • Use a time tracker. I used the Timeular tracker when writing my book. That’s how I know I spent 145 hours on additional research in the example above. But I also use information about hours in my annual reports to show my efforts towards work activities. I’ve seen external colleagues use their time tracker information to make a case for workload changes. For example, they’ve argued that they spend X% on service, which was inappropriate for their job description. Could shifts be made to help them focus on research and teaching?
  • Watch how others make a case for their work. Dr. Letitia Henville shares examples in this article on tracking impact through metrics. My favorite example in the article is the idea of using WorldCat as a way of tracking how many libraries hold your book.
  • Brainstorm. What do you feel is the most important way your work matters? Look for data that supports those arguments. Reviewers won’t look for those numbers or data. You have to find them to show reviewers.

Tracking numbers is just one way to make a case for your work. Remember to also argue for the stakes of your idea. 

As always, thank you for reading and believing that scholars deserve support for incredible ideas. 


Stay in touch: The Newsletter, Twitter, and The Grant Writing Guide book.

P.S. If today’s newsletter was helpful to you, would you mind forwarding it to a friend? Sharing strategies is one way we make academia a kinder and more supportive space.

P.P.S. Hope you had some fun over the break. We painted this garden gnome. We had to bake it for 30 minutes to get the paint to “set.” I’m not sure that will be enough to help our gnome last out the winter in New England. Fingers crossed!