Academic writing: Conformity and beyond A brief note


Let me start on an anecdotal note. I have drafted part of my doctoral dissertation and am expecting my supervisors’ verdict. I’m literally floundering in a sea of doubts: Is my writing reader-friendly? Will it come up to the academic reader’s expectations and standards? Have I followed the proper line of arguments and built my thesis plausibly? Is my review of the literature exhaustive? Have I convinced the reader of the novelty of my contribution? Is there a contribution in the first place? … . The verdict is merciless: “Interesting work, Christina, but …” and a barrage of flaws ensues. Dominant among them: “Some points are cryptic. And, most importantly, your writing doesn’t seem to conform to the conventions of the academic writing community. It is a bit of a hybrid, a cross between linguistics and literature, which is rather confusing, for this is not literature, it’s linguistics, so clarity and lucidity of expression are a major concern”. So, I tell myself “If you are to convince your reader-judges, you cannot possibly give free rein to your literary self. Try to make your style more staccato and matter-of-fact. Shorten your sentences, use more mainstream, linguistics-oriented vocabulary, avoid metaphor”. But then my other self-bounces back and refuses to be hushed: “Oh come on, what’s so terribly wrong with long sentences? Henry James – and please do not hasten to call this arrogance, for how dare I associate my writing with the great novelist’s … – wrote paragraph long sentences. And, anyway, I have always believed writing was my strong point. I was after all praised for my compositions at school and my undergraduate study writing proceeded smoothly. So, why submit?”