#EmptyShelf17 No.44: Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write, by Helen Sword

So, now I want to get hold of my copy of Stylish Academic Writing, and read that!

Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics WriteAir & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write by Helen Sword
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot of inspiring bits in this book. I’m trying to decide if I like the long lists of what others do/quote extracts which make it very rich, but I got a little lost in some of them! I definitely like her live-working of writing demonstrated in one chapter where she illustrates it with the various false starts she’d had as ideas for that chapter. The thoughts on thinking through metaphors are really helpful – is writing a ‘battle’ or a ‘passion’, and how does that impact how you approach writing – being energised or fatigued by it.

The friend who gave it to me likes my ‘journalistic style’ of writing and knows I struggle with not feeling like my writing is ‘academic enough’ (aka dry/dull/full of heavy content), so I’ve been encouraged by the emphasis on communication – knowing your audience and allowing your passion and energy to infuse the writing. It’s certainly not a magic book of instruction – as Sword had originally set out to write, but her research demonstrated that we need to experiment with different ways of writing, not wait for months off/the perfect writing space, and those multiple quotes give lots of different ideas of things to try. Also gives encouragement that some of the things I do, make sense within an academic context!

I underlined quite a lot of bits, and made a particular note of p175, where the four habits of those who seem to be “lucky” are laid out:

1) Notice and act on change opportunities, create strong social networks, hold themselves open to new experiences.
2) Trust their intuition – following paths without huge expectations of what’s at the end, but serendipitous opportunities arise
3) They persevere in the face of criticism and rejection.
4) See the positive side of unlucky events – negative feedback strengthens the next piece of writing!

Very dip in-and-out of for academic writers, and encouraging for those who are a bit stuck!

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Writing in Code (@annmroz)

Librarians at one North American university have posted on the internet a guide to help students distinguish a scholarly journal from a popular one. Among the telltale signs of populist offerings are high production values – “slick, glossy, with colour pictures, photographs, and illustrations” – and writing that is “non-technical” and uses “simple vocabulary accessible to the majority of readers”; whereas textual material in a journal is described as “college level, in the specialized vocabulary of the discipline covered”.

That’s akin to saying that scholarly articles are written in code for those in the know; they are more exclusionary than inclusionary. There is a widespread belief that any work that is easily understood by a non-specialist must have been dumbed down. References and footnotes therefore swaddle the text like an intellectual security blanket and deter the curious reader.

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