To develop your critical writing voice, think of your readers
As an academic writer, you must not only present a clear and objective argument in your writing but also develop a critical voice. Too often, academic writers believe erasing any sense of personality creates more objective prose. But writings in the social sciences and especially the humanities are not only about what is presented but also about how it is presented. Dry, jargon-filled writing alienates all readers. Therefore, an important idea to keep in mind, is reader-based prose instead of writer-based prose.
Clear language enhances your writing voice
Although all academic writers want to formulate an intelligent and original argument about their subject, many writers fall into the trap of privileging abstraction and excessive complexity instead of simply making their position clear to the reader. In academic writing, we sometimes confuse dense and complicated with erudite and elevated, but any writer, including academic writers, will earn more loyal followers by presenting their intelligent and original arguments in concise and lucid prose.
A lucid argument is not submerged. While one way to explicate a submerged argument is to repeat it verbatim; a more effective technique for revisiting the main thesis is to telegraph the thesis not by merely repeating it verbatim but by tracing the progress of the critical arc throughout the piece.
An effective critical arc presents ample evidence and clearly situates that evidence in relation to the larger argument being presented. Making readers work too hard to keep up with the line of reasoning can lead to severe repercussions—like having them abandon the effort to follow the plot. You don’t want to send your reader flying to the nearest Oxford English Dictionary to look up unnecessarily complex words or leave them yearning for the mercy of subtitles.
Join the conversation of other scholars
Producing academic work means participating in a larger conversation. In academic writing, presenting your argument involves working with material from other scholars in the form of journal articles, books, archival material, and so forth. The conversation is not only between you and your reader, but also between you and all of the scholars who have written on the subject before you. (Well, maybe not all, but many.) Although you must present an original argument, you also must acknowledge how your scholarly claims extend, counter, or operate in proximity to the work of your academic peers. So, while making an original contribution to the field is crucial, so is giving due credit to those peers. But when you quote or paraphrase too much, you bury yourself (and your argument) under a mountain of other arguments. Never let the words of other scholars speak for you even—and, perhaps, especially—if your argument is similar to theirs. Instead, use their work to show the importance and uniqueness of yours.
© Annalisa Zox-Weaver, PhD, and Oxford Editing, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Annalisa Zox-Weaver, PhD, and Oxford Editing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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