Having completed my PhD using a writing style that took – quite literally – YEARS to get to grips with, I’ve moved onto the thorny issue of writing for journal publication. In an 80,000 word thesis, it was entirely possible to combine my personal and academic voices*, but it seems much more difficult when the word count is limited to journal requirements.
I remember once, I had a conversation with an academic at university, in which he bemoaned the style of writing he was having to adopt in order to jump through the publication hoop in a particular journal. He said he hated writing like this – it was dry, dull, and completely removed from his ‘normal’ voice. I remember wondering why things had to be like this, and whether I would be able to do it differently. Have you been able to write and build a career as an academic, whilst avoiding the dustiness? I’d love to hear your stories, for inspiration!
But here I am, more than three years after that conversation, having exactly the same dilemma about writing styles. I’m writing a number of pieces for publication, and that means I’m addressing my fear of academic writing. What I’ve found really interesting, on reading back the proof of a paper that’s just been accepted for publication, is that I’ve done exactly what I avoided throughout my thesis writing experience: I’ve produced a document in which the word ‘I’ never appears. How has that happened, given my beliefs about authentic voice and ‘presence’? I’m now trying to decide whether to send back the proofs with amendments that include changing ‘the researcher’ to ‘I’ – or, for added weight (allegedly) – ‘we’. I’ve read plenty on this subject, and it seems to be a debate about disciplines: in science, hardly any ‘I’ (although some ‘we’), whereas in the social sciences ‘I’ appears with reassuring regularity. As I’m aligning myself firmly within the social sciences, I’m going to be brave and JUST DO IT! After all, the big hurdle was getting a paper accepted in a decent journal, and I appear to have jumped over that one with little in the way of corrections.
So I’m avoiding writing the papers for dusty journals for now, concentrating instead on papers that I feel more comfortable with, and which will (hopefully!) appear in journals more likely to accept my reflective way of writing. This way, I hope to get some confidence in paper writing ahead of facing my fears. And in the meantime, I am blogging, both here for Piirus and on my personal blog, where I am able to write in my most authentic voice.
What voice do you write in? Let us know your thoughts on finding a writing style that suits your academic work. You can leave a comment below or get in touch directly.
You can follow @Piirus_com on Twitter, look out for our tips with the hashtag #piirustips and tweet your own tips with #piirustips.
*The thesis was written in the first person, and I used reflective text boxes throughout to make my presence felt. For example, at the beginning of the theoretical chapter (which really was the driest, heaviest part of the entire thesis), I wrote a narrative and reflective piece about how I came to understand the value theory had to the work. I was keen to ensure my voice was heard in the entire thesis, but was equally aware of the importance of maintaining an ‘academic’ voice for the purposes of the work being considered acceptable within the world I was inhabiting.