Rethinking academic writing

One of the things that is challenging to me as I give other people feedback on academic writing is how often I have to say,

A thesis is an ugly, clunky, conservative genre, so write in an ugly, clunky and conservative way. You can’t be too obvious. Don’t worry about spelling things out, writing repetetively, or aiming for elegant prose. I don’t want surprises, and I certainly don’t want to have to read it twice.

This is true for the thesis, but it’s also true for the journal article, the conference paper, and the academic monograph.

Sometimes, as I’ve said before, I want to say, “Fuck this, I want to write like Edward Said“.

Other times I want to experiment. (Don’t forget that my academic training is in modernisms and its inheritors). I want to rethink what academic writing might look like. I want to write critically by critiquing what writing is in the academy.

So one of the things that I really enjoyed recently, in going back to study, is that I got a chance to explore that with a three part web essay on “Embodying Learners in New Media Literacies: Cyborgs, Androids and the Dance Apocalyptic“.

I think it was in many ways a failed experiement (I still like endings, the hyperlink citations were actually pretty hard work for both author and reader), but that’s the joy of being the student. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to show your learning.

(And guess what my grade was? That’s right, I got 80%.)


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