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

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Presentation on theme: "Developing as an academic writer Sarah Salway Gita Subrahmanyam 3 November 2009."— Presentation transcript:

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 I’m 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 can’t learn good writing Good writers get it right first time Writing simply = dumbing down Understanding is the reader’s job If the ideas are good, then the writing doesn’t 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 what’s 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 other’s flip charts and assess each other’s 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 don’t) 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 Harry’s 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 Orwell’s Four Questions: 1.What am I trying to say? 2.What words will express it? 3.What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4.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: 1.The voice 2.Narrative drive 3.Writing clarity 4.Where do you (the reader) get held up? 5.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 other’s flip charts Assess each other’s 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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