I never thought I’d say it, but blogging has improved my academic writing.
Before I began blogging in the spring of 2015, my academic writing committed every sin of bad writing. I used big words with zeal. I stuffed my wordy sentences full of nominalizations. I bloviated egregiously.
I felt justified in my pedantry, assuming that academic writers needed to sound smart to be considered smart. As a result, my academic writing sounded like a wooden version of myself trying way too hard to impress other people.
When I started blogging, I had no idea that I could write in a different style or that people would read my writing if it were freed of academic linguistic baggage. After almost ten years of (not) learning how to write academic stuff, I was shocked to discover that academic writing is not the only way to write. I’m still in the process of learning how to be a person with a blog and develop my own unique writing style. Through the last year of blogging, I’ve started to develop a writing style that reflects who I really am better than my academic writing voice ever did.
Not only has blogging made me a better writer in general, but blogging has made me a better academic writer. Here (in no particular order) are five changes I’ve noticed in my academic writing since I started blogging.
1. I focus more on telling a good story rather than dragging readers through tedious analysis.
A blog post is not an academic monograph. A blog is not the place to drone on about minutiae. Blog readers are a fickle bunch. They are not a captive audience. If bored, blog readers do not hesitate to find something more interesting to read.
Blogging often involves telling personal stories or stories about my research. I’m planning to write more posts about my research this year, because I’ve got some good stories to tell. I’m starting to think a lot more about narrative arcs, character development, and plot twists.
But Lisa, isn’t that just writing narrative? Isn’t narrative problematic? What would Michel Foucault say?
Sure. Writing narrative leadsto all of those problems that we spent many graduate seminars discussing. Foucault would likely be either amused or horrified by my writing. As scholars, part of our job is to analyze things. But I reject the idea that history consists solely of dense analysis. I believe that we can tell a good story that teaches us something important about the past in a way that interests people.
Blogging has helped me figure out how to tell better stories. In other words, I try to tell some stories that people care about.
2. Blogging has helped me think about the reader.
As an academic writer, I rarely considered my readers. I was always so worried about straightening out the argument, sharpening the analysis, or puffing up my ideas with big words. At no point did I wonder what readers thought of my writing.
I’m in the process of turning my dissertation into a book. When I read my academic writing from a few years ago, I cringe. I want to rewrite the entire thing. (And I still might.) I’m looking at it thought the eyes of a reader now. I see where I’m droning, boring, or confusing the reader.
When I blog, I’m forced to think about readers. I want to write stuff that interests other people and provides them a little benefit for having been nice enough read my posts. I consider whether readers will care about what I’m saying. I try to think about what’s in my writing for the reader. I’m working on revising my dissertation with the reader firmly in mind.
3. Blogging has helped me conquer my fear of sharing my (incredibly imperfect) work in public.
I, like lots of academic writers, am mired in a swamp of shame and anxiety about my writing. I always wonder if my ideas are good enough or my writing is up to par. Criticism terrifies me. I often compare myself to mypeers and fret about why they’re so much more published, promoted, and successful. The imposter syndrome sabotages me at every turn. I’m often afraid to share my work with other people.
A few short years ago, I would have rather walked over hot coals than shared my imperfect writing on the Internet. Evey blog post I’ve ever written has some kind of problem. I usually don’t spot the problems in my posts until long after I’ve posted and the entire world has seen them. There are a zillion typos. Occasionally, I forget to punctuate. Nevertheless, I somehow manage to post week after week. Much to my surprise, no one has told me that my writing sucks. Nor has the entire sky fallen on my head.
Last year, I sent off a journal article to a peer reviewed journal. I fretted. I freaked out. I worried. My article was far from perfect. I nearly didn’t send it, but then I thought about my blog. Just like I click on the POST button every week, I gathered up all of my courage and clicked SUBMIT, sending my imperfect article the the journal editors. Go team!
4. Blogging (and Twitter) has taught me to communicate complex ideas in simple language.
In addition to developing a clearer writing style on the blog, Twitter has taught me to write in short sentences. There’s no room to bloviate in 140 characters. I have learned to get to the point. I’m reading Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing this week. Klinkenborg argues that there’s no point in writing long sentences until we’ve mastered the art of writing short ones:
You can say smart, interesting things using short sentences. How long is a good idea? (2013, 8)
Because of Twitter and my blog, my academic writing gets to the point much faster these days.
The other great thing is that I’ve stopped hiding behind the pretension of my academic writing. I get to be me on my blog and on Twitter. When I write academic articles now, I use “I” and talk about “we.” I try to talk to readers as if we were having a friendly conversation about my research, using short words and short sentences.
5. Blogging has made my writing more social.
Sometimes people read my blog posts for new ideas to use. Sometimes I use blog posts to think up new ideas. Sometimes a blog post will spark a whole conversation on Twitter. Because blogging involves sharing, my writing and ideas bump up against other people’s. People share and respond in turn. Writing is often lonely, isolating, and difficult, but blogging makes me feel less alone in my writing.
Et voila! Five ways that blogging has helped to improve my academic writing!
[Photo: Butterfly Pavilion, Westminster, Colorado, 2015]