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The Psychology Behind Writing: Tap into Your Natural Personality to Assist Your Academic Writing Process (Part 4)

Hello fellow TAA members, thank you for reading this fourth post of “The Psychology Behind Writing.” With monthly offerings, we’ll get into some of the psychological processes that support our academic writing as well as the ones that derail our writing. And, we will definitely explore strategies for amplifying the positive and mitigating the negative. Read the first post, second post, and the third post in this series.

Decisive Writers vs. Inclusive Writers

As many of you might know, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is structured with 4 personality scales, each with two “opposite” preferences that rest on a continuum of intensity for that personality scale. The key to remember here is that we all have all 8 preferences available to us (4 scales x 2 preferences), but we tend to have a natural preference for inhabiting one side over the other. One side tends to come more instinctively, we don’t have to think about it as hard, we can be on auto-pilot, we are more practiced with it, and we probably don’t have much anxiety around using it.

For example, it’s very similar to the ways our left and right hand function. For the majority of us, we naturally prefer one hand over the other and we have much more practice using our dominant hand. However, that doesn’t mean we do not use our non-dominant hand to complete tasks or to help our dominant hand complete tasks. We just prefer one over the other and can make do with our non-dominant hand if our dominant hand is not available.

Keep this example in mind as we engage with the fourth of the 4 personality scales.

MBTI Personality Scale 4: Judgment and Perception

The fourth personality scale is Judgment and Perception which emphasizes how we carry out a decision once we’ve made it. In other words, it’s an orientation towards our outer life coupled with an attitude towards the external world. People who prefer to come to a decision quickly, set goals and follow a plan are on the Judgment side of the continuum. This doesn’t mean that the person is disparaging or judgmental towards self or others, it means that they can swiftly carry out a decision. On the other side of the continuum is Perception, people who prefer a more flexible and spontaneous decision-making process.

When it comes to writing, folks who prefer Judgement tend to be more decisive in their approach to the material task of writing whereas folks who prefer Perception tend to be more inclusive in their writing approach:

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. If left to your own devices, which is your preferred approach to writing? Not how you have been trained or molded into as a writer, but your natural approach? If you find that you are 50/50, for the purposes of this exercise, chose one to be 51% and the other will be 49%.
  2. Does your discipline tend to value a decisive writing approach that focuses on one project at a time with timelines for completion or a more inclusive writing approach incorporating flexibility, multiple projects, and extensive searching for related materials/data?
  3. Do the answers to questions 1 and 2 match up? If yes, there is alignment in your natural approach to writing and the expectations and conventions allowed for in your discipline. Yes!

If the answers do not align, a writing challenge may be present, and not to worry.

Writing Challenge Tip

For the most part, academic writing favors the decisive writer’s approach. The “publication pipeline” framework is designed to support expeditious timelines for scholarship production. If, however, you are a more inclusive writer, systematic and organized schedules are not likely to be in your natural wheelhouse. With the intrinsic desire to undertake extensive research for related facts and ideas, quickly narrowing down ideas with supporting literature might be a little like writing your signature with your non-dominant hand. It could feel awkward, uncomfortable, and perhaps like producing subpar work. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s that you have to train yourself, practice, and perhaps rely on tools, techniques and strategies to keep you going.

On the first draft, tap into your natural writing style to gain momentum, increase confidence in your writing, and experience moments of ease in your process. This will save some time (and perhaps frustration) that you can utilize elsewhere in the writing process. There are myriad timers, planners, methods, and applications to help structure the time management process. If you want more accountability built into the writing process, take a look at these options.

The main point is that you now have a deeper understanding of how you, and others, naturally prefer to carry out writing tasks. One approach is not better than the other, they are simply different paths towards the same outcome. However, publication culture clearly rewards one over the other. If you find that your natural approach, or the approach of your co-authors, isn’t the best fit for the project at hand, please know that it may not be simply a personal deficiency, a case of intractable perfectionism, or a lack of work ethic…it might be that one’s natural approach is not favored and systemically supported by the publication pipeline. It is not a personal or intellectual defect in you or others; just like we wouldn’t assign defect to a person whose dominant hand is different than society’s prescribed norms.

Next Month’s Topic: Tap into Your Natural Personality to Assist Your Academic Writing Process – Integrating All Four Scales

Reference: MBTI Tasks of a College Student. Center for the Application of Psychological Type. Gainesville, FL.

Michelle Rivera-Clonch, PhD. is a scholar-practitioner psychologist who also co-founded Writing in Depth: An Academic Writing Retreat at Hope Springs Institute in 2011. In June 2023, she presented at the TAA Virtual Conference and subsequently was invited to contribute to the Association’s blog; to which she excitedly agreed. Her book A Depth Psychological Study of the Peace Symbol: Jung, Politics and Culture was published this summer by Routledge.