Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Taking Off the Gloves Regarding Academic Writing and Feedback

One of my friends and colleagues, Erin Atwood, who will soon be joining the faculty at Texas Tech University, recently shared via Facebook the tips below regarding proposal writing. Her insights were gems, and she gave me permission to share them here.

1. Use headings–It is really easier to review something when I have a clue what you are talking about.
2. If you repeatedly use the phrase “we show” then you really ought to show me something.
3. 12 point serif font people. If your whole proposal is italicized, I begin reading with negative thoughts of you and your work.
4. Cite someone other than yourself.
5. Over complicating an issue does not make it significant. I have no issue with literature reviews and descriptive statistics. When well done, these are important and often needed contributions. I do have a problem when your lit review claims to be a study or you are saying you have answered questions that can’t possibly be answered with a simple Likert scale survey.

Flikr: KWDesigns

Flickr: KWDesigns

What I’d add. The best thing about her notes are that they also apply to other forms of academic writing. Personally, I find that sloppiness in the basic stuff sets me toward looking for sloppiness elsewhere. I’d add to this list that a surprising number of graduate students need to be reminded/retaught how to use topic sentences and paragraphs. I was probably one of them. And although I think I know how to use commas and semicolons, I’m often surprised when I come across people who don’t. Similar comments might be made about run-on sentences, misused appositives, incorrect citation formatting, or other contortions.

These observations are not meant to sound petty. Rather, I’d like to raise the bar on how we give feedback to each other and to our students. Academic writing is a genre, but we forget to teach it that way.  Kerouac and Dostoevsky are great in many dimensions, but serve poorly as models for scholarly writing. It isn’t until one understands conventions in academic writing that one is able to use them well or to play with them.

Make the world a better place: Take off the gloves. As academics, we ought to believe that contributing ideas to larger conversations makes the world a better place– and I think part of that means taking off the gloves when someone has failed to express a thought clearly or adequately. This kind of feedback isn’t always easy to hear. Sometimes you need to sit on it. Giving this sort of feedback makes one feel like an English teacher who should have retired years ago, bu there is value to it.  If something seems unclear or faulty to one person, it is probably unclear to others. Don’t derail good ideas.


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This entry was posted on June 3, 2013 by and tagged , .