This week is Queensland Writers’ Week, supported by the Queensland Writers Centre, with the aim of highlighting conversations about writing across all genres, including academia. As academics, we want our writing to engage our potential audience so they understand and are moved by what we write. Whether they are challenged, astonished, outraged or inspired, we hope that our writing leads to reflection or action on the part of our readers. Too often, academic writing is turgid and dense, a boggy marsh that only other academics, armed with the secrets of arcane jargon, can navigate without sinking.
You may know of New Zealand academic, Professor Helen Sword’s, work on academic writing, published in her two books, ‘The Writer’s Diet’ and the recent ‘Stylish Academic Writing’. Helen recently published a brief outline of the ‘Seven Secrets of Stylish Academic Writing’ at the Conversation website. The article is an engaging refresher on writing well as an academic. If you haven’t seen this site, it’s worth visiting. The Conversation is an independent source of analysis, commentary and news from the university and research sector — written by academics for public consumption. Academics register and have their identity confirmed before submitting articles, which are short, jargon free and interesting.
This week, why not talk to academic colleagues who are interested in writing in more accessible ways. Science academics, in particular, are being encouraged to learn how to engage with the public about their important discoveries, in ways that are interesting and understandable. This also applies to academics across disciplines, from education to engineering, physiotherapy to philosophy. The Conversation website may be a good place to begin, as applications and pitches are assessed by professional editors with experience working closely with academics.
When I began this blog two years ago I posted a plea to other writers, like myself, who were making the change from academic and professional writing to a creative genre. I suggested the name Emerging Experienced Writers. Many people have written extensively through their professional or academic careers but don’t call themselves writers – yet. I am one. As an academic I’m used to writing – to analysing, reasoning and arguing. Rather than showing, I tell the reader how knowledgeable I am and then tell him again in case he missed my point. In attempting to break free from the didactic discourses of academia and evoke experience in my writing, I initially developed a severe case of adjectivitis and alliteration fever. In some ways it’s more difficult to climb down from of the academic rigour of the ivory tower, or the instrumental sterility of technical silos, than it is to emerge as a writer from the jungle of everyday life.
I wonder where people who replied to me are now. Have you moved towards your goals? I’m on my way and enjoying the challenge and change but am still doing a lot of academic writing. As I’m learning more about writing, I’m realising that it’s possible to also stretch academic writing into a more creative, exciting read.