Supporting Academic Writing at Universities

Many things went on at Unseen University and, regrettably, teaching had to be one of them. The faculty had long ago confronted this fact and had perfected various devices for avoiding it. But this was perfectly all right because, to be fair, so had the students.
“Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett

One of the nice things of looking for a new job after 8+ years in Academia is checking out different jobs to see whether they fit. One of the not-so-nice-things is when you and a potential employer disagree about said fit. 😉 :-/ Although to be honest, I can see that the focus on the last application was a bit different and fit might have been an issue — on multiple issues.

But it was worth a short, among others, because it provides you with new playing fields to work out ideas. For example, to improve academic writing at universities. It was something that was in the job description, and the main reason I applied. It’s a topic I really care about, esp. given that academic writing is rarely taught by people actually working and writing in the particular disciplines.

Don’t get me wrong about people with a literature/writing background — they are really, really good when it comes to the language itself. But I always think there’s something missing, something doesn’t fit that well. Plus most of the techniques I’ve encountered in the courses could be done with parchment and a quill. There are ways to facilitate writing with modern tools, esp. academic writing. And I’m not only talking about reference managers, content outlines, and Scrivener here.

Anyway, given my occupation with the topic, there are a few interesting things universities could do.

For example, doing a series providing one-page tips from different disciplines. Something you can read easily and quickly. A few colleagues of mine and I did something similar in another blog, and I think it works really well.

Then there’s the idea to invite people who have published in “Nature” or “Science” to give a presentation about their work processes. Sure, there is something fundamentally wrong about overemphasizing these journals. Also, if you get published in these journals, I guess most worked in a team. But this doesn’t mean that the main author couldn’t point these issues out, and provide some interesting insights on his or her work and writing process. Might have the “prestige” to attract a few people and lead to interesting discussions and web-page articles later.

There are other ways academic writing could be promoted on all levels of a university — students, PhD students, Post-Docs, even professors. To make it a topic. To make tacit knowledge explicit. Especially when it comes to exchanging knowledge between disciplines. Not only do they usually have different strengths, they are also (usually) not in direct competition. On the contrary — if other departments/disciplines at the same university do well, the funding they get might benefit the university as a whole. And all would profit (in that university).

Hmm, but I guess I have to look for another opportunity to see whether these (and other) ideas really work in real life.


  1. I think promoting technical writing in Universities is really important for students and faculty! Technical writing is much more than English language editing, and demands many different techniques and skills. And often it requires the authors to go through a very difficult psychological process…

  2. Yup … it’s a craft and at least somewhat influenced by the discipline. And while the process is often very difficult, I think it can and should be supported. 🙂

Comments are closed.