Academic Writing III – What “writing” can be
What actions are meant by the term “academic writing”? Just the actual writing aka you hit the keyboard fiercely and the whole thing sounds like machine-gun fire? Or is it reading, lit review, crying over Citavi or Zotero not working or – and I know you all have been crying with this at least once in your career – MS Word not doing the thing we want it to do (just a hint: LaTeX. Just… LaTeX. Check out the ninja.)
It is in fact a creative working act. Yes, academics can be creative. Most of us are in some way or another very creative, because living the life we choose we just have to be like this. So, why not call writing a creative act and admit that there are some days with good writing and some days with bad none-writing? How many hours have you spent sitting in front of the feared white page, shimmering on your desktop like a vast pain in the … well, you know where.
Writing is not only creative, it can also be learned. Academic writing can be learned. We are tied up in our different disciplines, every single of them functioning on their own rules and styles. I am not just talking about citations. I know perfectly well that my archaeological part writes different than my ancient historian mini-me does. And academic writing is no way compared with the writing I am doing here on this blog. So, what are they, three different ways of writing just combined in one person? Seems legit.
There are a lot of quotes on how to write – mostly by non-academic authors. My most favorite one is by Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” How right he is. So, by now (and I needed about five final assignements to learn that) I just start writing and outlining my texts. Writing is really a way of collecting your thoughts. I often tell people about the things I need to write, I try to give them an easy and short insight – works like magic when trapped in some cases of writer’s block (there are very different cases, though). So, what is “writing”? For me, at least. Maybe for you, too. Or at least, some parts of our understanding of writing may align.
- Writing – The Beginning
The idea or motivation for the piece you need to write. Yes, I know, obviously – motivation can even mean “to do” for finishing lectures or university courses, for getting credit points. Everything is permitted. Next step in academia: literature research, experiments, collecting data – you know, the things you do before you can actually write about what you did. 😉 For me, research and literature reviews are always entangled with Citavi – you may use another software. Citavi does the trick for me, even though I did a lot of stuff currently with Zotero, too.
And while collecting your literature and quotations, you have to read. In the Humanities, we are basically all bookworms by occupational habit. But what are the problems and trap during this stage of writing?
- procrastination by downloading lots and lots of papers you never read – we all have that download file folder somewhere hidden on our computers, the file folder of shame. 😛
- procrastination by reading and reading and hoarding books and papers – and, much worse: reading without directly thinking about it or working with the material you just read.
- immediately starting to write, while reading parallel to hitting your keyboard, producing a lot of unnecessary text and spending a lot of time because you actually do corrections and editing on this pile of written text
- the feeling that not writing = no production of text is not work at all – happens to me all the time… But, I have to admit, I just try to see it that way: In my job, I can actually stay a whole day on the couch or outside in the park, reading my stuff and thinking about it. An action which will be seen by the untrained eye as not working at all… and therefore, you have a bad conscience…
- Writing – The road goes ever on and on
You have all the data, you read every necessary paper, you know really everything about the topic you want to write about – but… do you just open a word processing program of your choice and… start? Like… how? The solution: You need to outline your text. Like our article outline template, designed by Sarah, which you can find described in one of our posts. Academic writing is no fantasy story where you can allow your characters to do what they like. We have a certain goal in mind, a problem we need to discuss and where we want to show our readers a possible solution. So, planning and outlining is a must. And, like all other things to be learned, one can learn how to outline texts. Sometimes this outlining process helps you to develop new writing ideas. You know, for your next article… But, again, in this stage, there can be problems.
- instead of one tiny bit of a research aim you suddenly find yourself with an idea worth at least a PhD thesis… cut it down. Do it.
- you write a lot, but you write around your topic not really adressing the main problems or thoughts you have – back to your outline, check your aim, start again.
- you are struggling to write the perfect text at your first try – back to Hemingway: your first draft is shit, embrace it, love it, nobody will ever see this manuscript. Mischief managed!
- you suddenly find yourself kissed, embraced, maybe even violently abused by your muse and produce really good texts, but not on the topic you acutally wanted (like me while writing this, because the original idea was to write about GIS and maps and archaeological stuff and here I am, writing about writing, inspired by a talk I just had with a friend) – that’s okay, do it, finish it, it will be useful. There is a reason for everything. Even if the reason is to print your shitty text and to burn it ritually. Or at least to delete it ritually on your computer and wipe out every trace of its existence…
- Writing – How all things end. Do they end?
Have you ever had the feeling of getting to a well written end in your papers and articles? Yeah, well, me neither. It is sometimes so hard to finish it. It should be a good ending. Giving new thoughts, providing a short summary of your brilliant expertise you described thoroughly… The problem is obvious, it is one of my weak points. The weakest I have, next to my novel-like writing… 😉
I always try to sum up my most important points of the written text and then I think about other possible questions or problems I could not answer or have not answered. The end of a text depends on the text – you will write different ends to a thesis than to an article of 15 pages, right? When I have found a good solution for writing endings, I will tell you.
So, this is it for now. I am still looking for my “academic writer”-persona, but I have a really godd feeling about it. Please, feel free to read part I and part II of my writing series. Tell me about your writing experience. How do you do academic writing?
Stay safe, have a good time and keep writing!