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Developing as an academic writer

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Developing as an academic writer Sarah Salway Gita Subrahmanyam 3 November 2009 Good academic writing What is it? Why does it matter? What is good academic writing? – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Developing as an academic writer


1
Developing as an academic writer
  • Sarah Salway
  • Gita Subrahmanyam
  • 3 November 2009

2
Good academic writing
  • What is it?
  • Why does it matter?

3
What is good academic writing?
  • Good academic writing is about a imparting
    knowledge and few things are more important.
  • (Professor, LSE)

4
What is good academic writing?
  • It is about creating stimulus, illumination
    and insight. To achieve this, the writing needs
    to be clear, well structured and interesting. You
    want, and need, to hold the reader's full
    attention from beginning to end.
  • (CEO FTSE 100)

5
What is good academic writing?
  • Any writing that educates and informs, but
    also engages. Without the latter there is no
    learning.
  • (Editor, Harper Collins)

6
Where does it go wrong?
  • Bad academic writing imparts nothing and is
    merely irritating noise.
  • (Professor)

7
Where does it go wrong?
  • Sentences which have no natural flow and use
    too much jargon. I lose interest, and also
    confidence in the writer.
  • (CEO)

8
Where does it go wrong?
  • When it forgets its audience.
  • (Editor)

9
Why does it matter?
  • A good prose style in academic writing is not
    merely desirable it is essential. It is not
    merely about making you ideas clear and
    intelligible to yourself, it is about conveying
    their import to others.
  • (Professor)

10
Why does it matter?
  • Academics should be thought leaders whose
    work has as wide an application as possible and
    helps shape a better society.
  • (CEO)

11
Why does it matter?
  • Because Im fed up of rejecting manuscripts
    filled with good ideas but that just aren't
    written well enough.
  • (Editor)

12
Getting your work across
  • You -------- Message -------- Reader

13
The Narrative Drive
  • .. the quest, Samuel Beckett
  • or
  • the logical ordering of evidence and
    information directed towards the end

14

15
  • The writer as cartographer

16
1. Exploration
  • Scribbling notes
  • Reading
  • Getting it wrong - missteps, false starts and
    surprising discoveries
  • Discovering your journey

17
2. Presentation
  • Applying your knowledge, skill and talent
  • Creating a document that will communicate
    effectively with others
  • The map

18
  • Writing a novel is like driving a car at
    night. You can see only as far as your
    headlights, but you can make the whole trip that
    way.
  • E. L. Doctorow

19
Some myths about writing
  • You cant learn good writing
  • Good writers get it right first time
  • Writing simply dumbing down
  • Understanding is the readers job
  • If the ideas are good, then the writing doesnt
    matter
  • My supervisor/editor/agent/etc will take care of
    the editing

20
The four stages of writing
  • Fun
  • Drudgery
  • Torture
  • Waiting

21
  • Writing is easy.  All you have to do is stare
    at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood
    form on your forehead.
  • Gene Fowler

22
Your question
  • What does your reader NEED to know in order to
    understand what you NEED to say?

23
Good beginnings
  • Engage readers interest with an evocative
    vignette, quote, conundrum, statistic
  • Signal a fresh start (esp middle chapters)
  • Explain chapter title/focus of book (Chapter 1)
  • Frame key issues or research questions
  • First few sentences are carefully crafted speak
    with a clear and confident voice
  • Provide clear signposts for whats next
  • Make readers want to continue reading

24
Good endings
  • Review top-line findings and key arguments
  • Pull together chapter/book findings and show how
    ideas inter-relate
  • Establish link forward (esp middle chapters)
    and/or link back (esp final chapter)
  • Frame findings in new ways opening out
  • Reinforce readers feeling of progression
  • Enable readers to see a bigger picture

25
Good beginnings and endings - award-winning novels
  • Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark (Vintage, 1997)
  • Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (John Murray, 2008)

26
Good beginnings and endings - award-winning
academic books
  • Kathy Davis, The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves
    How Feminism Travels Across Borders (Duke, 2007)
  • Stanley Cohen, States of Denial knowing about
    atrocities and suffering (Polity, 2001)
  • Nigel Ashton, Kennedy, Macmillan and the Cold
    War the irony of interdependence (Palgrave,
    2002)

27
Flip Visit 1 Beginnings Endings
  • Form a group of three with people on your table
  • Visit each others flip charts and assess each
    others beginnings/endings
  • Use the checklists to spot problems or areas for
    improvement

28
Writing Style
  • A good style should show no sign of effort.
    What is written should seem like a happy
    accident.
  • W. Somerset Maugham

29
Different needs for academic writing
  • Imparting knowledge, not entertainment
  • A contribution to scholarship
  • Breaking new ground
  • Provides documentation of results
  • Demonstrates high level of discipline-related
    expertise

30
Developing Your Voice
  • finding your voice as a writer is in some
    ways like the tricky business of becoming an
    adult.
  • Al Alvarez

31
How do you do this?
  • Know what it is you want to say
  • Take responsibility for it
  • Strive for precision - the hard, definite word
  • Be clear in your meaning - Good writing is a
    windowpane. George Orwell

32
  • Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is
    concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary
    words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for
    the same reason that a drawing should have no
    unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary
    parts.
  • William Strunk Jr.

33
Sentence Structure
  • Subject - verb - object (S-V-O)
  • so
  • No sentences like this one in your paper.

34
Clarity
  • It is often said that no Sentences, especially
    if they break the useful rule of being of no
    longer than 25 words, like this one, or indeed a
    similar one using the Sentence structure first
    described by xxx in his Paper xxx, should appear,
    even if they are in Quotes or form one of the
    asides that gives this paper its particular
    Voice, in your paper, or indeed any other Paper
    that may have been written at a similar time.

35
  • (It is often said that) No sentences (especially
    if they break the useful rule of being of no
    longer than 25 words,) like this one, (or indeed
    a similar one using the Sentence structure first
    described by xxx in his Paper xxx,) should
    appear(, even if they are in Quotes or form one
    of the asides that gives this paper its
    particular Voice,) in your paper(, or indeed any
    other Paper that may have been written at a
    similar time.)

36
Say what you mean (not what you dont)
  • I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true
    to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike
    a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become
  • Professor Harold Laski
  • (as quoted by George Orwell)

37
Be Precise
  • The British press is the freest in the world
  • This experiment led to exciting developments

38
Who are you talking about?
  • We often look at
  • The university leapt into action
  • Bryson once wrote

39
Be careful of repetitions
  • In other words
  • If we go back to the experiment on
  • A paper we will refer to later explores

40
Active - v- Passive
  • The paper is filled with Harrys bad jokes
    (passive)
  • Harry filled the paper with bad jokes (active)

41
Find - v - Spellcheck
  • FIND
  • Search your document for
  • is/are - passive sentences?
  • that - can the words is in front of that
    be deleted? eg It is often thought that..//
  • SPELLCHECK
  • Read through for MEANING not just the correct
    spelling

42
George Orwells Four Questions
  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

43
and two more
  • 5. Could I put it more shortly?
  • 6. Have I said anything that is unavoidably ugly?
  • From Politics and the English Language, 1946

44
Things to look for
  • The voice
  • Narrative drive
  • Writing clarity
  • Where do you (the reader) get held up?
  • The style checklist

45
  • Writing with simplicity requires courage, for
    there is a danger that one will be overlooked,
    dismissed as simpleminded by those with a
    tenacious belief that impassable prose is a
    hallmark of intelligence.
  • Alain de Botton

46
Flip Visit 2 Focus on Style
  • Again in your groups of 3, visit each others
    flip charts
  • Assess each others prose styles
  • Use the checklist to spot problems or areas for
    improvement

47
The next step
  • Freewriting
  • Planning your writing sessions
  • and your breaks
  • Changing/adapting your writing space
  • Edging forward inch by inch
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