One of the first things I learned after entering the University of North Texas’ Master of Science – Learning Technologies program was that scholarly writing is expected to differ from anything else I had ever written. Considering I was a professional grant writer, which required persuasive writing, I was once a Quality Control Manager, which required technical writing, and, early in my life, I was a Corporate Trust Representative, which required legal writing, I wondered …
… how different could scholarly writing be?
What I have learned since has confirmed though that scholarly writing is very, very different from anything else I knew.
For instance, scholarly writing, commonly referred to as formal writing, is expected to adhere to a set of established rules, regulations and protocols regarding format and organization. Bednar (2015) examined what he considers as formal writing rules recently. Bednar begins by explaining the general guidelines regarding meaningful sentences, paragraphs, and arguments. Bednar covers rules for thesis statements, essay and topic structure, paragraph transitions, writing style and professional ethics. Bednar then discusses document organization and construction including the rules for section titles and captions. Bednar next explains the fallacies of using word processor spell checkers as authorities for the rules related to punctuation, grammar, capitalization, hyphenation, and contractions. Bednar moved to outlining the rules for authorship acknowledgments, quotations, footnotes, bibliographies, and citations. Bednar concluded by identifying his “personal quirks” related to punctuation (Bednar, 2015). In other words, Bednar is apparently from the school of thought that if one does not follow the accepted scholarly writing rules, then what was written is not formal at all. It is just a written conversation.
By contrast, Toor (2010) notes that formal writing can get so formal – it stops being fun. Toor wrote that it is common practice for some authors and graduate students to feel they will be perceived as unintelligent or unworthy if they do not include multisyllabic words, convoluted phrasing, and perfectly diagrammed sentences in their writing. Toor wrote convincingly that “wannabe-better writers” should focus on using strong nouns and verbs, shorter sentences, and dynamic presentation instead of arranging long sentences complicated with big words, fancy punctuation, and irreverent metaphors. Referencing George Orwell, Toor argues that such writing approaches do not accomplish the intent of scholarly writing which is to add to the body of knowledge. Toor also agrees with Orwell that poor scholarly writing reflects bad writing habits disguised as “tricks of the academic trade”. Toor opines bad writing misses the mark because it usually ends up not being read. Toor concluded her argument by condensing her position regarding the formal writing rules into six simple bullet points:
- Never use metaphors, similes or figurative speech.
- Never use multi-syllable words when single syllable words will do.
- Always try to cut words out of a sentence after its written.
- Avoid using passive voice by assigning either credit or blame.
- Never use jargon when everyday English will do.
- Be willing to break a formal writing rule every once in a while to avoid bad writing that is too dense and too boring (Toor, 2010).
A comparison of the two expert opinions led me to the conclusion that, while scholarly writing is expected to be different because of its commonly accepted rules, requirements, and protocols, my personal and professional dilemmas are:
How can I aspire to become a renown and respected scholarly writer when nobody reads my stuff?
How else could I possibly contribute to the body of knowledge if readers glance through my titles then set my writing down?
Honestly, I would rather have my stuff read than considered perfect.
I’m just saying …
Bednar, J. A. (2015, July 2). Tips for Formal Writing, Technical Writing, and Academic Writing. Retrieved from http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/jbednar/writingtips.html
Toor, R. (2010, April 15). Bad Writing and Bad Thinking. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Bad-WritingBad-Thinking/65031/