The Admitted Perils of Academic Writing


At the two year milestone of my five year Doctor of Education I thought I’d take the time to return to this blog to talk a little about how it’s going and how it has helped and/or hindered my writing. I often look to this very blog as a great influence for becoming a more prolific, and in that sense a better writer. It was the encouragement I got online that drove me forward and which later saw me getting both non-fiction and journalism published, but also my poetry and some stories. It is also part of the reason that I felt that writing would not be such a chore while working towards my doctorate over five years.

It has been a long time thought since I’ve written any journalistic articles or poetry, which I suppose is a bit of a shame. There has also been the minor matter of having to complete a bucket or two full of reading for two large essays, as well as other activities, twice a year for my course. The course, above all, is mentally taxing, and with my kids keeping me extra busy, the joys of sitting down throwing out a thousand words appear to have vanished in the ether.

Writing academically is certainly very different. Even for all the criticisms writing academically may receive, and they are ample, I’m going to give you some feedback based on how I feel and what I understand about writing has changed.

  1. Every word matters

When you have a wordcount to fit a very complex argument into, this goes without saying. Beyond that words go even further to determine how we are understood. Agonising over phrasing is not something that only creative writers shed tears over. Individual words mean specific things and how we say things bears connotations. Shift + F7 really doesn’t find the right answers and even if it is the right word, it’s likely that in review someone will find a more appropriate word. Accuracy seems to be king and striving for perfection seems to make the world, at least when writing academic pieces. What is said and how it is done so seems to carry greater weight than ever, and even then the accuracy may be left wanting.

  1. Your opinion hardly matters

Don’t take this too hard, because I’m listening, really, but it’s just that regardless of what you’re saying I just prefer what that other person is saying. But hey, it’s ok, thanks for trying and maybe next time I’ll pick up something you wrote. Such is the way that I think dialogue surrounds the world of academic writing.

For the hours that people probably spend devoted to the work they are experts in, become respected and become sought after and respected and all those other positive word, it may be the case that there are as many people who discount your findings or hard work because of some fickle reason. The hours spent crafting are a labour of love, but this love does not appear to be reciprocal.

  1. Does being a good writer matter?

It is an answer which I thought would carry me through many of the hurdles this process is presenting to me. I thought that, as a strength, it would single me out advantageously. And perhaps it will do so, but only after much more time working and crafting the way that I write. I was kind of scuppered some months back as I was hauled in as the quality of my writing was put to task. It was not said that how I wrote was bad or good or anything like that. Essentially, I was told that my writing was wrong. I’d never really considered writing as ever being that way.

The rebellious part of me wanted to raise the middle finger and carry on attempting to break the system. This part of me huffed and puffed and spat and cursed, but to what end? It struck me as things were explained to me that the content was what mattered, and not the style, as the primary function of writing in an academic setting. Style, it would appear, is secondary, and a product of the labours of accurate graft.

Don’t get me wrong: it is very important to be able to write well, but well is defined as being concise, clearly, and highly organised, often with the choice of particular words agonised over. Not, as is my wont, a glorious fluent adjective laden cavalcade of English whisking the reader away on a personal narrative of insight and romance. No.

  1. What’s in a comma?

Following on from previous points, the individual functions and purposes of different elements of writing count. They are tied in, not only with style, but also more than I have felt before. The comma, for example, all but a simple short tick downward at the heel of a word can carry the meaning of a sentence, and with that it can carry the meaning of a paragraph, and perhaps it could disjoint the meaning of 1000 words. Placement is as important as non-placement, and perhaps you should really think about why are there so many commas and no full stops. The comma is a vital piece of punctuation that should be considered superior in the crafting of any written piece, but in an academic essay it becomes something far more sophisticated and which has a particularity that not only controls what and how we say, but what do we actually mean when we write words. This is a message which concerns every single utterance from the keyboard, and while the comma is of course a significant example to

  1. There is no such thing as a final draft

I say this with a pinch of salt. Of course everything must be completed and submitted with a sense of finality. It takes a brave writer to say anything they’ve written is complete, regardless of genre, but the more I write the more errors I find, the more I discover passages that needs rewriting. On top of this personal reflection it appears that even the realm of academic writing purposefully seeks out reasons for further drafts to be completed.

Do not get me mistaken with someone who does not appreciate the necessity for new drafts or a significant review. We are all constantly striving to improve our writing to reach the highest standard, but sometimes reaching an agreeable standard may be the most difficult task of all.

Personally, I have found that I have had to change not only the ay in which I write, but also the style of my writing. Gone, I hope from an academic perspective at least, are the long winding and circuitous prose-like sentences of my former self. Now, brevity is king, but a frequently flexible ruler I should emphasise. I am no longer an expert and my opinion now counts for very little, and the quality of my craft once lauded for its finesse has been turned on its head by those who simply know so much more about the game I am trying to play. What I am trying to say here is that I have tried to be myself and found this coming up short and that a new writer needs to be found from somewhere within, if such a thing is possible.

So that is that. Academic writing has been me and it is where I have been. I am, more than ever, learning a new game and it is far from what I thought I was capable of. Probably I look at this as one of the biggest lessons I will learn, as I have been turned inside out a little, and I have had my confidence taken out, turned upside down and given a good shaking. What is left in my pockets is small change and probably a dirty tissue and a few receipts (what’s new?). I have to make do with this and what remains stuck to my bones. If that is possible, then I will do so. Until then, I had better go and catch up with some reading I should be doing. Education waits for no man, or woman.

 

P.S. To spite the system I am slowly being engulfed by I am avoiding a thorough review of this article in the hope that my genius shines through, spelling mistakes or no.

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Peter Clarke


By Ray Hyland

The first adults you meet in life will forever leave an impression. Family notwithstanding you rely on your teachers and headmasters to guide you along the early roads.

Personally speaking I don’t think Dunboyne realises how lucky they had it. Peter Clarke served the area with great distinction, a place right on the edge of Dublin,for so long rural, growing rapidly as housing estates shot up as quickly as you could build them.

Many dreaded when their class teacher would be occasionally absent,for fear of the principal coming down to take the class for the day. I for one loved the tales of mice running around the skirting boards of the old school and the nuanced pronunciations from the teacher’s copy of Buail Liom. Not to mention the P.E class out in the mucky field,O’Neills footballs flying everywhere but scarcely over the bar.

That school was far from perfect. But while there was always sadness at the end of each summer holiday there was never true dread. Staying on the right side of the tracks just seemed the most sensible course of action when you heard of the legends of meter sticks and canes. In my experience the legends were just that, as mythical as those school plays whereby enthusiastic actors turned up for a production of Tir Na Nog.

There were problem children(your writer included,especially in junior & senior infants) and for them there was the principal’s office; a cologne fragranced mass of papers and a filing cabinet with a long lost typewriter sitting atop of it. Rare was it that you visited this room for anything other than bad news. Thankfully its charms remained a mystery for the most part.

Not unlike that fascinating Mercedes Benz, a cream coloured behemoth with left hand drive. Some lucky boys were even afforded the opportunity to be chauffeured home on occasion, but only if their grey uniform had not withstood the onslaught of a puddle and they faced the day in wet trousers. Mr.Clarke always had a bit of style.

Looking back on it, admittedly with rose tinted specs I’d say they were happy years. Nothing seemed out of reach, everything was possible. The school trips were always a real treat. We had Wexford and a trip to the Heritage Centre in 4th class. Any chance of misbehaviour was quickly culled when we saw we not only had Willie Lyons but also our headmaster to contend with. The train home was class though, crisps,coke and a game of snap.

Going back as a secondary school first year for a ‘visit’ the place seemed much smaller. To be greeted by the silver haired principal was proof that we were now on our way, headed for the real world whether we wanted to or not.

I only saw him a few times in the years after Dunboyne National School. He looked like a man enjoying his retirement. The hair was of course still silver and the smile never seemed far away.

Farewell then sir, I will be thinking of you at the three o’clock bell.

This post is guest post. For more on guest posts and how to submit please follow this link.

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Hi, my name is Ray and I live in Ireland. I am slowly learning how unfair life is and dealing with it accordingly. Currently I live at home with my parents at the tender age of 32, having decided that success and a nice abode of my own was all too predictable. I presently work as an Intern, which in Ireland means, the same as everywhere else in the western world (no job prospects!). My principle interests include observing soccer players secretly laughing at the rest of us, wrestling with the reality that sometimes you’re better off not trying, wrestling full stop oh and fast food, consummation and critique thereof. I don’t like long walks along the beach, Monday is my favourite day of the week and if there’s an American TV show out there that you love and can’t stop talking about chances are I probably despise you.

I have a job.


One thing I don’t talk too much about here is work. The reasons why are because it’s work, and work is work, and there are plenty of people out there who are more suited to talking about my line of work than I am, and more importantly, I don’t want to talk about work.

I talk with co-workers about work all day in work. It’s work talk. The same work talk that everyone else talks about in work, which usually involves complaining/marvelling over something irrelevant to the rest of the immediate world. It’s not very exciting and the less I have of it the better. Sometimes I talk with Herself about work, and she politely grunts and changes the subject, which I’m grateful for. I do enough talking about work and you don’t deserve, need, or really want to hear me go on about work.

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The Lockup – Continued


*You can read about what encouraged me to write this particular post here*

 

A test is an objective means of analysing who is the best at something in particular. A test is a way to see who is best suited for a particular job, course, or future, so it is the best way to choose applicants, or at least make the decision a lot better, right? Well, no it isn’t. Tests have as many disadvantages as they do advantages for both those giving the test and those taking the test, which I’m sure most of you are aware of.

I couldn’t feasibly or reasonably accuse every test in the world of falling into this category, and I am not going to point the finger at anyone who does or gives tests regularly. What I want to do here is to use Korea as an example of how testing effects not only the people taking the test, but also the rest of the country.

*

 

Korea is a country that, one could say, loves a good test. Tests are used to decide practically everything in terms of a person’s career. There is a phenomenon here that exemplifies this; the country starts work an hour later on the day the national exam for entry into university, called 수능 (Korean SAT), takes place. This so that the students taking the exam won’t get stuck in traffic and be late for the rest of their lives – of course it can always be done next year but when you are under so much pressure to perform and then you have to delay it another year, why would you want to?

It’s a massive national effort to make sure every eighteen year-old has as much a chance as everyone else to do the test. So much rests on this test that people all over the country get behind the students in a peculiar.

The test puts so much pressure on students that many lose all impetus to study hard when they get into an actual university. In fact the competitive and progressive learning atmosphere that you would usually attach to university is removed. This is because once they are in the university they essentially are prepped for their next examination, which is usually for a professional qualification. Students are frequently given high grades because it is recognised that employers look at grades before ability. Students don’t really learn, they just get the qualification without actually being qualified.

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