Reflective musings on academic writing

More thoughts on ‘Why I Write

I keep coming back to this theme.

I am writing (as a student) a lot about writing (as a researcher) and I can’t see how one can continue to write without constantly being aware of why they are doing it.

Some of these reflections have been re-triggered by a book on Student Writing in Higher Education by Nesi and Gardner. Based on extensive corpus studies, they present a rich and informative snapshot of the kind of writing students in the UK have to do at university. The essay genre remains the most ubiquitous across all disciplines, plus a load more!

But I have been reading it through a ‘why I write lens’, not ‘what I write’, and the following quotes have jumped out at me because not one represents why I write (my motivation):

Universities not only prepare students to enter specific professions, or to pursue further research or training, but more generally, they also prepare graduates  who are expected to contribute to the world of work and to an educated society (p. 34)

demonstrating knowledge and understanding is fundamental to university student writing (p. 82)

…their urgent need as students to please their teachers and get good grades (p.184)

All these quotes have a common theme: that university writing requires extrinsic motivation, i.e. writing for someone else to gain their approval.

I write to help me think about the things that matter to me and to contribute to social change.

But, as Jeremy Paxman recently said

It’s perfectly normal when you’re young that you want to change the world. The older you get, the more you realise what a fool’s errand much of that is and that the thing to do is to manage the best you can to the advantage of as many people as possible.

So what happens when you are no longer that ‘young’ and still don’t realise that you are on ‘a fool’s errand’?





2 thoughts on “Reflective musings on academic writing”

    1. Be careful what you wish for! Paxman may well be right …

      Seriously though, where is the literature for uni students on academic writing that foregrounds its social, intellectual and transformative role, not just how to make it sound and look perfect?

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