Writing Unveiled: Roundtable Reflections II

Using ‘I’ in our writings

Last Wednesday was enlightening. Our conversation explored and digressed from an article on using the Discursive I in academic writing.

Two key messages resonate with me:

Some practices are so longstanding […] they have solidified in our subconscious – impossible to change, or even question. This irony is not lost on me. Academia is supposed to be a place to question everything, yet every day I’m surrounded by silent rules that are not up for questioning.” (from the Guardian article above)

and, on whether there is any semantic difference between using I/We compared to a passive or other impersonal choice:

The information doesn’t change, but how you receive the information does” (Hector Reyes Campana, Engineering MSc, who attended last week’s roundtable).


1) what other academic writing practices are there that we are reluctant to question? I’m reminded of this post on how our citation practices may also need to change.

2) to what extent are we (the writers) responsible for how our information is received (by the reader)?

We then came to the conclusion that – in an age where interdisciplinary research is being given more and more prominence (see for example Cambridge physicist Athene Donald on Being a Social Scientist for a Day) – the need to be both intelligible and engaging in the way we write becomes increasingly relevant: it is not just an abstract musing.

Having just returned from two days at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, and particularly from its fringe venue How the Light Gets In, the need to question our academic writing practices and what they are for has hit home even more.

So, what shall we discuss next Wednesday? Your thoughts are welcome. My suggestion is: “Am I a ‘writer'” available here: http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/227/

2 thoughts on “Writing Unveiled: Roundtable Reflections II”

  1. Dear Julia,
    I think this blog is an excellent opportunity to give our opinion with respect to academic writing. In addition, the focus on the use of personal pronouns in academic areas allows us to begin an important discussion on the use of the passive voice in academic papers.

    Hector Reyes

    1. Thanks Hector – it was good to hear the perspective of a scientist on these issues. I should also have quoted you as saying that science communication doesn’t have to be dry and boring and that if we can write in a more engaging way, then why not …? I think the key thing is to be aware of when and how and for whom we can bend and extend the conventions.

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