Featured Post


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Three Stages of Academic Writing

1. First, the writer doesn't know that you can't just write the way you talk. There is no effort to make the writing sound "academic" at all.  I never went through this stage, because, well, I had already read enough not to do this. But I have had graduate students who write like this.  

2. The second stage is when the writer is trying to sound formal, academic, and professional. They have an academic voice in their head that they are emulating. Their writing will be formal enough, now, and hit the proper register. Their prose blends in with that of others. It doesn't seem out of place in an academic journal. This does not mean it is good. In fact, it might very well be bad in the typical ways that academic writing is bad. They might jargon, heavy-handed sign-posting.

3. The third stage is when the writer decides to pursue a personal style. This can be any style sh/e wants, but it is the writer now who makes the decisions, no longer worried about sounding academic enough. How do we balance the different stylistic ideas we have in our heads?  Clarity, elegance, concision, precision of meaning, specificity... What exact tone do we want to convey? Confidence, friendliness, humor? Notice that I am not giving a formula for how you should write, but simply saying it is up to you to decide. So many writers do not even know that there are choices to be made. Once you know what you want, you can pursue it. Your writing will start to move in that direction, and will improve along the axis that you have chosen. Writing "better" is a useless goal; you want to move in a particular direction that you have chosen, like writing "clearer," or "more elegantly." Or "sounding less stuffy."

For me, the third stage has meant sounding a little less academic, more like the tone of everyday speech. It is not a reversion to step 1, but a reconsideration. I have tried variations on the plain style and the classic style.

It is the same way in the writing of poetry. An inexpert writer either writes just prose, without realizing that the poem is something different. Or else they will write stupid sounding rhyming doggerel. The next stage is to sound "poetic" on purpose, with a lot of lyrical writing, or writing imitative of what wouldn't seem out of place in a literary journal of the day. The third stage is to decide what style you will pursue of your own accord. Maybe this style will make your poems unpublishable, because they don't fit what people expect to see in a journal.

No comments: