On Writing

Today I welcome Rod Pitcher to TheUniversityBlog. Rod has written a piece on the writing process.

Rod is a PhD student in Education at The Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. The focus of his study is the metaphors that doctoral students use when describing their research and other matters related to their studies. He uses metaphor analysis to arrive at an understanding the students’ conceptions.
Rod Pitcher’s profile is at http://cedam.anu.edu.au/people/rod-pitcher and you can contact Rod at Rod.Pitcher@anu.edu.au

photo by chic.geek

photo by chic.geek

On Writing

Writing is not a simple process. It depends on a number of factors, three important ones of which are knowledge, incentive and the ability to write. I have never had any problems with the last one. I enjoy writing and do it well according to my supervisors. The others are not so easy.

It seems a truism to say that good writing depends on knowledge, but it is true, none the less. If you don’t know what you are going to write about it will be difficult if not impossible to produce anything sensible. You need knowledge to frame the paper, give an account of what it is intended to illustrate and to provide information to the potential reader. A knowledge of others’ work on your topic is necessary to provide the references that put your work into its context.

If you don’t know what you are writing about, how can you expect to make sense? Whether the paper is factual, biographical or speculative you need to know the background to it. You must be familiar with the topic, the background and anything previously written on the topic so that you can place your work in the context of other’s work on similar topics.

Having gained the knowledge about your topic you must then have an incentive to write. Common incentives include finishing your thesis to gain your PhD, writing a journal paper to improve your publication list, or writing an application for a job that you would like after completing your doctorate. Note that the reward for doing the writing should be important to you, personally. The personal incentives are by far the best. Working to someone else’s incentive is a recipe for disaster.

It is sometimes difficult to find an incentive to write, but it is important that you do so. The more important the incentive is to you the more incentive you have to write. Writing without a good incentive can be soul-destroying as you try to imbue some interest you do not have into the work.

Lastly, you need the ability to write. If you have that ability without being taught then you are lucky. If not, you can be taught to at least produce good quality prose. Your university probably runs courses on it. Take all the courses you can. They can’t do you any harm and you might find the spark that brings out the creative writer in you. Join a writers’ group to get feedback on your work – and LISTEN to the comments, don’t just let them pass you by. Take advantage of other writers’ experience. Finally, practice writing. The more you write the better you will get.

Writing is not easy for most of us. We need help to produce our best. Even the best writers can use constructive feedback and comments about their writing. Use all the resources available to you to develop your writing skills. You will gain from it in your writing – and so will your audience.