How to identify yourself as an academic writer

Identify yourself as a writerDoctoral study involves a transition from student to researcher; a key aspect of that transition is becoming an academic writer. This is not to say that most new PhDs would readily describe themselves as academic writers. But that level of accomplishment requires the development of a set of academic writing skills that were likely not present at the outset of doctoral study. It’s also likely the case that the development of those crucial skills was a significant challenge.

Why is doctoral writing such a challenge? This question is a vital one given the centrality of writing to all that we do as academics. It’s common for new graduate students to feel as though their writing skills have suddenly become worse, as though the adequate writing skills honed over their undergraduate years have abandoned them just when they need them the most. A linear trajectory that would naturally make us better writers with each passing year may seem a reasonable expectation, but the reality is more complicated than that. Understanding this reality can help novice academic writers start to approach writing in a more confident and efficient manner. [Read more…]

Promoting outstanding writing: An interview with Patricia Goodson, Ph.D.

Patricia Goodson

Patricia Goodson

Becoming An Academic WriterPatricia Goodson is Professor of Health Education at Texas A&M University, and Director of the College of Education and Human Development’s Writing Initiative (P.O.W.E.R. Services), a college-wide writing support service for graduate students. P.O.W.E.R. is grounded in the model described in her book, Becoming an Academic Writer.

Here Goodson talks to TAA about her approach to writing and about managing a successful writing support service for graduate students. [Read more…]

When writing your dissertation, look at it from several perspectives

writingThe project is not the subject. The project is not the thesis. Whether you are writing your dissertation, a journal article, or a book, the project is not simply the thesis. When I ask people about their projects the answer I get is always (or almost always) the subject of the project. Sometimes I ask specific questions like “what kind of project? Is it a dissertation? A thesis?” And still the answer I get is the subject of the project. But your project is not just about a subject; it has a certain form. It is a journal article, a dissertation, a book. It has a certain intention—to share a discovery, to support a position, to instruct others. It is aimed at a certain audience—peers, or students, or educated lay people.

If you can see that form, and understand how that form relates to the work you’re trying to accomplish, then the writing process becomes much easier: it’s less a shot in the dark, and more a purposeful action. [Read more…]

Punctuation, other stylistic rules: obstacle or opportunity?

Punctuation, and other stylistic rules, with all their exceptions and apparently arbitrary forms, can seem like a massive obstacle to writing. If you’re unsure of punctuation (which is reasonable, given all the conflicting opinions on punctuation), the rules are more than a nuisance; they conspire to break into the writerly flow with their demands for figuring out, for example, where to put a comma. Punctuation and other rules are enemies to many writers. Certainly most of us don’t enjoy reading Strunk and White or the massive style manuals that define proper writing style in many academic fields.

But if you think of writing differently—not from the perspective of getting it all down on paper, but from the perspective of reaching interested readers—then these take on a different appearance; punctuation affects meaning and interpretation; to a lesser extent other stylistic elements do, too. And the meaning that the reader can gather is one of a writer’s main concerns. [Read more…]