What counts as academic writing?

22330777640_7aec2a8230 (1)Raul Pacheco-Vega has another interesting post about writing, this time asking ‘What counts as academic writing?‘ He begins by talking of his daily practice:

Because I need the peace of mind of having accomplished something every day, I write every day, instead of spending extended periods of time cranking out text (what often is called “binge-writing“, though I hasten to add that binging has a very negative connotation associated with eating disorders, and we may need to change the language around that). I write every day because I’ve made writing my priority. Everything can wait but not writing. I can’t leave my house without doing some writing.

It moves onto a discussion about breaking down the difference between generative text and non-generative text – that is, words that go into a publishable document, and words that are notes, emails to co-authors, plans, tables, etc.

I think this a helpful way to think about things, for a number of reasons. Most important, it breaks from this idea that ‘writing’ is some perfect state where words become phrases, sentences, paragraphs, sections and so on. It allows thinking about the messy accumulation of material for projects as productive, and getting to the point of recognising what has been achieved on a project in a day, week or more.

There is a bit in the Zizek! movie where he discusses writing. His point is that when reading and thinking he puts down notes and thoughts, convincing himself that he is merely doing that. His notes though are quite extensive and detailed. At some point he reaches a point when he has so much material that he edits it. ‘Writing’ disappears.

Now whatever you think of Žižek’s own work, this is an interesting approach because it collapses the distinction between doing ‘research’ and writing ‘it’ up. In a different area of work from mine, I’ve always found it odd when someone quotes a passage from their own field-notes, as if it’s a secondary source, keeping the idiosyncratic original punctuation and phrasing. Why not use that as text to form a basis for the published text, but capture some of its voice and style in your published work? For me, that standard model creates a distinction between types of writing and, indeed, ‘research’ and ‘writing’, that is problematic. Another division is the strange thing that so many social science papers have, where two-thirds of the way through there is suddenly a section entitled ‘discussion’. It pretends to a distinction between the ‘objective’ design, presentation and results of the research, and then a more personal analysis of that material. That is, I think problematic in general terms, but also because of this distinction created between research and writing.

Raul’s writing posts are always worth reading, and I’ve shared and discussed a few before. This one is no exception.

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4 Responses to What counts as academic writing?

  1. jeffollerton says:

    “this is an interesting approach because it collapses the distinction between doing ‘research’ and writing ‘it’ up”

    For years I’ve tried to impress this upon my PhD students and postdocs, that writing IS part of the research, and that “writing up” research is, at best, an inaccurate way of describing the process. It’s had mixed success because it’s a difficult message to get across until they experience it for themselves and appreciate the importance of writing as they go along, even if much of what they write doesn’t end up in the thesis.

    I’m going to put links to this and the Pacheco-Vega piece on my blog, really interesting to see it discussed. Though I do feel he’s being over-sensitive about the term “binge-writing” – it’s a perfectly good expression for the act.

  2. Pingback: Research is Writing is Research is Writing is Research | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

  3. Pingback: What counts as academic writing? – roads to modernity

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