Advice from Angelika Bammer and Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres for Early Career Researchers
Angelika Bammer, Emory University, and Ruth-Ellen Boetcher Joeres, University of Minnesota, editors of The Future of Scholarly Writing: Critical Interventions provide advice to ensure that your writing is both effective and sustainable.
What if we thought of our writing as content instead of form, not as a container for thoughts we are presenting, but as part of the thinking itself? When we think about what and how we would like to write (as opposed to what and how we are supposed to write), would we write differently?
These are questions that we ask ourselves as scholars in fields where writing is both a form of inquiry and a means of presenting our work. While there is no recipe for good or effective writing, some ways are better than others. It is important to ensure that your writing is generative, that it allows the intellectual and creative potential of your work to unfold. Such writing will not only be effective, it will be sustainable. The following are some ways to proceed:
- Realize that your writing is consequential. It is material, it has effects. Writing does things, and you are able to do things with it. What do you want your writing to do?
- Imagine writing fearlessly, without the anxiety of getting it wrong. How would you write if you weren’t afraid to experiment, to try things out, to buck convention when the convention needs bucking (or uphold it, when you value what it holds)? How would you write if you dared to say the unpalatable, to tell the truth as you see and think it?
- Writing is a craft: take it seriously. Work with language and explore its possibilities; see how you can make it work for you. When you craft something, it isn’t about you: it’s about what you’re making. If you are lazy, cut corners, take the easy way out (like using clichés instead of thinking things through for yourself or saying what’s popular so that you will be popular), the quality of your work will be lessened.
- No matter what you are writing about, it is you who stands behind the writing. Take responsibility for that fact and the corresponding fact that others will be affected by it. To return to where we began: writing is consequential. It has effects. Consider what they are. What will your writing do for you and what will it do for others?
And finally, before the intellectual demands of scholarship take all the fun away, remember that writing is also an art. So while you are busy producing knowledge, conveying ideas and forging arguments, don’t forget the poetry of it. Or the music of it. The joy and beauty of it. Write in a way that asks the reader: are you there, are you listening; I have things to say and I want to know how you’ll respond.