The Study Dude – Stylish Academic Writing, Part II

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to pick a random object, such as a spaceship, and associate it with a blast-off of ideas in your essay.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s focus is on a well-researched, entertaining book titled Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword.

Give Lively Story-infused Detail
Outstanding scholars, authors, and presenters know the potency of a riveting story. Stories penetrate the human core, like seeds that germinate into delectable fruit. Your life’s story consists of tale after tale, of woes, of hardships, of self-revelations, of hope, of inspiration. Your life’s story can entertain and enlighten as no one else’s before you. I would go as far as to say that your life’s story serves to add fruitfulness?succulence?to the fodder of your essay writing.

Your stories and the stories you accumulate about others beg?no, plead and bargain’to be disclosed. Why should you warehouse a lifetime of exclusive experiences and perceptions, either belonging to yourself or others, never to be shared, when you can appropriate these tidbits into your academic writing?

Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell, two bestselling authors, pose stories and anecdotes as indispensable writing tools. You should, too.

Providing more detail in the art of storytelling in academic writing, Helen Sword delights the senses with the following secrets of effective writing:

– Implement oodles of examples into your writing, especially when offsetting difficult, abstract concepts. This charges your writing with concrete, supplementary illustrations. For instance, you could conjure up a telling example at the beginning of each major section or chapter to add clarity to what follows. As another example, follow-up every sentence spewing abstract nouns with a “for example” component.
– Anecdotes, which are true stories, tantalize best when couched in tales of real people. Create funny, satirical, strange, or concrete anecdotes. These stories could last from two sentences to multiple paragraphs, and are especially digestible in presentations.
– Try out similes, metaphors, personification, and other figures of speech; transform an abstract idea into a human-like persona, aching to gain our undivided attention. If you use one main metaphor, apply it and vary it often. Expand your similes and metaphors into analogies, where you liken the abstract subject of your sentence with something concrete.
– Experiment with allusions, which are “device(s) used by stylish authors […] to link abstract concepts with stories and images already familiar to most readers” (p. 106). Romeo and Juliet and the Wicked Witch of the West serve as two allusions, as do biblical references, like Noah’s Ark or the Exodus. However, some readers baffle over allusions they’ve never been formally introduced to. You should ensure your allusions remain understandable to those unaware.
– Proffer copious illustrations in your presentations and non-print documents. The graphics should add supplementary insights and serve not as useless appendages to your text.
– Here is the best idea of all: “Start a file of anecdotes?mini-stories of no more than a few sentences of paragraphs long?that relate to your research area” (p. 109). String these anecdotes into your writing and presentations at any opportunity. Open your essay with an anecdote.
– If you lack an arsenal of anecdotes, try firing off a fictional story. Commence your tale with words such as “hypothetically, speaking”, “suppose…”, and “imagine…”.

Seek Out Creativity
Not more than two hours ago, I entertained myself with a book called Borrowing Brilliance which contends that creativity poses as nothing more, nothing less, than old ideas rehashed, recombined, and regurgitated. The point-of-view mystified me, especially given the countless tomes I read espousing that creativity is sheer, blissful, esoteric originality.

Sword (2012) struggles to make a case for strategies to inspire creativity. Yet, the strategies posed seemed to have a disconnect to the real world. Despite this, Sword’s own writing is clever and inviting, a nod to her own ability to creatively write.

In lieu of Sword’s enticing literary style, I present her tactics for enhancing creativity in your own writing:
– Read anything?and everything?under the sun. Charge your writing with anecdotes or analogies pertaining to books you read outside your discipline.
– Nuzzle into some free-writing, where, uninhibited, you write without stopping for long periods of time. Once the exercise completes, move on to polishing your creation.
– Create audio recordings or mind maps of your stories and ideas for (structural) implementation into your writing projects.
– Write poetry about your subject of research. Perhaps include a poignant verse in your essay introduction.
– Venture onto Google images or some other image repository, choose an image, and ponder ways it could relate to your research. Free-write on how the image is analogous to your research and perhaps incorporate salient aspects of the analogy into your paper.
– And for the clincher: seek top writers in your field, analyze their writing, and mimic their tactics.

Story Continued
Sword stresses the significance of stories to the point where abstract concepts take on human-like, personable qualities. Implementing personification, metaphors, and other literary devices in otherwise sombre essays certainly arouses my curiosity and should yours. Why? Abstract ideas and jargonitis can meet, head-on, in gripping stories, making for an engaging plot in an otherwise dull drivel of academic thought.

Sword’s (2012) techniques for evoking cinematic qualities into an otherwise dry and dreary essay are as follows:
– Use rhythm, assonance, alliteration, and other musical literary devices for engaging the senses.
– The researcher’s story bursts forth with the researcher as the main character and the research question as the problem to overcome. Make this story exciting in your thesis account. Insert the researcher’s story in “a public lecture, a student seminar, a grant application, a book preface, or the opening chapter of a PhD thesis” (p. 90). Provide ample examples of how the research has changed lives, not only of the researcher, but of the subjects or the world in general.
– Like a camera, pan and pivot to different story lines to make the research more engaging. For instance, the tales from opponents of your views rev up the antagonistic element. These opponents could include scholars theoretically positioned against your views or a nagging colleague who discredits your academic stance.
– Some academics venture as far as to “merge into” their object of study. These academics take on the characteristics of the object of study, assuming the object’s identity.
– Assign flaws and strengths, dreams and ambitions, obstacles and enemies, to your abstract ideas. Make the abstractions characters in their own right.
– Place the context of your research in a setting. Settings provide concrete imagery that appeals to the senses. The setting can appear in the title or at the start of your essay, for instance.
– Play around with point-of-view such that the POV shifts from the researcher’s to another expert’s to the subject’s, and so forth.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Sword, Helen. (2012). Stylish Academic Writing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.