The Editing Process is Really Hard

Revising for the Audience This is a blatantly procrastinatory and reflexive/reflective piece that I feel propelled to write as I edit a large piece of my own writing. The text I am working on is for a journal, not my supervisors, and I have reached the (interim) conclusion that what makes writing ‘academic’ is simply whether your academic audience approves of it, or not (so, following on from this line of (institutional) reasoning, Sokal’s famous hoax was indeed ‘academic’ – a conclusion I loathe; and so were the fake articles published by Springer). This sounds like stating the obvious. But I don’t actually think it is. As an EAP teacher, I think that I am telling students how to write an ‘academic’ text in some ‘universal’ institutional sense of ‘academic’, as though ‘academicness’ were a clearly identifiable and quantifiable property that all academic institutions recognise and value. Yet, what I am actually teaching them is what they have to do to please me and my equally ‘standardised’ colleagues. Does pleasing me et al really make that student text ‘academic’? What counts as ‘academic’ for me is not what will necessarily count as ‘academic’ for their future supervisors or journal reviewers. I may in fact be signing something off as being a ‘good piece of academic writing’ (e.g. because it has the right amount of nominalisation or a conclusion that refers to implications) which in a different context and for a different audience may be irrelevant. Does this make ‘academicness’ a temporal property, here today, gone tomorrow? As a researcher into the nature of ‘academic’ writing, defining ‘academicness’ has become somewhat of an obsession (like defining ‘madness’ must have been for Foucault …maybe?). Writing academically, it seems to me, is more about playing to the gallery than being cogent or persuasive or truthful. It is more about spinning content (its relevance and context, and how you connect everything), and less about the facts and the language you use. It is drawing me closer to the view that academic writing is a reflection on/of academic thinking (not academic language, genres or practices) and that ‘academic thinking’ comes in all sorts of disciplinary and political and ideological and national shapes and sizes. I wish EAP didn’t call it ‘academic writing’. I wish it called it ‘writing to pass the exam’; or ‘writing to reflect’; or ‘writing to persuade’; or ‘writing to re-define’; or ‘writing to explain’; or ‘writing to critique’ ….. every piece of writing does something different and needs to be judged on its own merits, not universal standards that beg the very question of what ‘academic’ means.

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