This post has been prompted by Cally Guerin’s recent observations on doctoral writing and different academic ‘writing literacies’ on the Doctoral Writing SIG blog.
For Cally, academic writing literacy spans a whole range of genres from application forms and funding proposals, to composing survey and interview questions, writing conference presentations, journal articles and book chapters. She also counts blogging and social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn updates. Not to mention of course the all-important THESIS! In her post Cally states that:
Through these different writing experiences, doctoral writers learn how to express their ideas clearly, how to structure material so that all sorts of readers can engage with it, and consider the appropriate layout of the document to indicate how it fits together. They learn about the nuances of genre and audience—what’s appropriate, expected, and useful in a range of different writing situations.
With this year’s APR (Annual Progress Review) just a week ago and still being in a somewhat reflective mood, reading Cally’s post prompted me to log a few thoughts on my own progress with these different academic literacies.
Conference papers – Yes I’ve now done a few of those and I’m working on a new one for our annual ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference at the moment. At this stage of my research these are very much ‘work in progress’ papers. Coming from a visual arts practice background my instinct has always been to start with the visual presentation first and then work up my text (or script) to go with these. But in an effort towards a more focused academic delivery, I’ve now switched to working the other way round. At the conferences I’ve attended I’ve encountered a whole range of approaches to academic presentation but found the papers that are formally read without any visuals much the hardest to digest. I’m still very much exploring the academic culture here and need to continue experimenting to find a presentation mode that best suits me and my current ‘work in progress’ material.
Funding applications – This is an area of ‘academic literacy’ that I’ve now worked quite a lot on, and with some success! Not so much in terms of my own research (although I did manage to get AHRC funding for my PhD – thank you AHRC!) but rather in support of other academic’s bids. Through contacts in Fine Art here at Newcastle University I seem to be developing a bit of a specialism in creative practice-based research proposals. This is great for me, as it gives me an opportunity to work directly with artists again, something I used to do all the time in my previous professional work with Grit & Pearl and Commissions North/Arts Council England. These AHRC funding applications are a very specific and condensed form of research writing where you are following an externally imposed structure. Like other academic writing it’s both sometimes a solitary endeavour and also extremely collaborative, with much redrafting and discussion and responding to feedback along the way.
Survey and interview questions – Well surveys are not really my thing but I’ve certainly written interview questions for use in my own research project. From recent interviews I’ve conducted, the questions I’ve drafted for these seem to be effective in drawing out a good quality of responses. Although in the interviews themselves there are always additional questions raised that we don’t have time to explore. Working with one of my supervisors on a recent external research project I’ve also had an opportunity to explore and write for more unusual elicitation methods. In this case developing introductory texts and prompts for a online diary based qualitative investigation tool that invited user responses to an artist designed app project called ‘Second Moon’.
Social media – Hmmm…. As you may have noticed this blog has been pretty quiet over the last few months, as my writing attention has moved towards literature reviews and thesis chapter drafting. But I’ve been building up my Twitter activity (you can now follow my latest tweets on this blog) – a form of ‘academic literacy’ that’s easy to fit into tiny writing/thinking pockets in the day, especially when I’m out and about. (Although in honesty retweeting is reading rather than ‘writing’.) I’ve found that being in a more relaxed space away from my desk/laptop seems to put me in a better Twitter writing mode. But for longer form blogging (like this current post) I feel I need a more formal space/time that’s a bit closer to my chapter-drafting environment.
The THESIS – Of course, for me (and my PhD supervisors!) this is the biggest and most important academic writing literacy I need to master. In my revised project plan I’ve given myself a writing target of 10,000 words a month – the majority of this will go into the thesis, but not all of it will count to those magic (and still very far off) 80-100,000 words. For me this thesis writing time (as a part-time student I’m scheduling three x three hour slots for this per week) isn’t just about chapters, it’s all the draft texts, research notes, mind maps and outlines that go into their making. These are the inside working processes of the PhD writing project that you never really get to see in other people’s thesis writing, although these processes are certainly written about. I’ve found the standard academic writing handbooks by Dunleavy (2003) and Murray (2006) and blogs such as the excellent Patter and the Doctoral Writing SIG extremely helpful on all this, but I’d still really like to see inside the engine of someone’s thesis, to get a feel for the progress of the various drafts that’s gone into its making. Although I certainly value my supervisors’ feedback on my own writing it’s hard to judge one’s progress (and to feel positive about it) when you are always comparing your own writing with fully completed theses.
But, going back to Cally’s blog post and the positive learning that she suggests can be gained from these various writing experiences. The question perhaps for me at the moment is, are all these writing literacies just competing demands on valuable academic writing time, where one writing genre and project battles with another that has a more pressing deadline? Or can these different academic literacies be developed and managed in a complementary and mutually supportive manner?
Dunleavy, P., 2003. Authoring a PhD, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Murray, R., 2006. How to Write a Thesis 2nd ed., Maidenhead: Open University Press.