Academic writing is…

I recently blogged whimsically about metaphors, the post kickstarted by some thoughts on an EAP sequence on the subject. Here I am simply to summarise some metaphors for academic writing (or writing from sources to be more exact) that I have encountered in my work:

AN ESSAY IS A CONTAINER : The essay contains ideas.  If it only contains opinions without support, it’s empty.  It’s also important not to over-fill it.  (more here – but personally I find this metaphor links the sense of direction and purpose essential to effective academic writing)

AN ESSAY IS A JOURNEY : The writer needs to guide their reader to a destination worth visiting.  If the writer begins by establishing what the destination is, why it is worth visiting, and what route will be taken, the reader is genuinely guided and will persist with the journey. Without this guidance, the reader may become lost and unmotivated.

ACADEMIC WRITING IS A SCHOOL OF FISH :  When swimming together, small vulnerable fish can appear imposing and strong to any potential predators. Individual strands of an argument gain strength from being positioned alongside one another (see Frances Kelly’s blog post for the source of this metaphor).

School of Fish at the Monetery Aquarium

ACADEMIC WRITING IS ARCHITECTURE : Sources are the building materials; the writer is the architect: expert on the way that materials may be used in order to construct  the building according to his or her design.

ACADEMIC WRITING IS CURATING : Sources are like paintings in a gallery.  The gallery curator decides which paintings go in which room, how they are labelled, and how they are positioned in relation to other paintings in order to realise the vision that the curator wishes to communicate to the gallery’s visitors.

ACADEMIC WRITING IS A CONVERSATION : Sources speak to each other; the writer speaks in response to what the sources say.

ACADEMIC WRITING IS A HEATED DISCUSSION AT A PARTY: the sources were discussing the issue long before the writer entered the room; before joining the discussion, the writer needs to listen carefully to who is saying what, who agrees with whom, and which points seem most contentious.

As I’ve written elsewhere, this last metaphor is my present favourite (and the inspiration behind the name of this blog), but I have to wonder what kind of parties some people go to…or perhaps just why I don’t get invited.

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