Welcome to Explorations of Style! If this is your first visit, you have a number of options for reading this blog. First, you can follow the blog in the usual ways (these options can all be found in the left-hand column of the homepage):
- through email, which would mean that you’ll receive an email when each new post is published;
- through an RSS feed, which would mean that new posts will be added to your preferred blog reader;
- or through Twitter, which would mean that new posts will show up in your news feed.
Second, you can take a look at the key principles, strategies, and sources found on the homepage. Third, you can use the search field on the homepage to find posts on the topics that interest you. Finally, you can use the tags and categories attached to each post to see further posts on particular topics. What doesn’t work particularly well is reading chronologically. Explorations of Style is not intrinsically chronological; like many bloggers, I write very episodically, talking about whatever I’m interested in at that moment. Reading those posts back-to-back would make little sense. But while the blog isn’t organized thematically, it does have themes. If you are interested in reading posts from the archives, I’m offering this table of contents to help show the thematic structure of the blog.
In what follows, I will list the posts according to ten themes: Drafting; Revision; Audience; Identity; Writing Challenges; Mechanics; Productivity; Graduate Writing; Blogging and Social Media; and Resources. While I’m in the process of writing my book on academic writing for graduate students, I’m adding an eleventh category to this list: Book Reflections.
I. Drafting: In Using Writing to Clarify Thinking, the first of my key principles, I suggest that writing is a way to develop our thoughts rather than a way to record those thoughts. This central commitment to writing as thinking has informed many subsequent posts on the complicated nature of composition.
- In Can You Write Too Early?, I argue that early writing is the best way to work through the difficult process of figuring out what we need to say.
- In A Cut-and-Paste Job, I consider the pros and cons of reusing our own texts in new ways.
- In The Discomforts of Uncertainty, I address some of the challenges of exploratory writing.
- In Between Drafting and Editing, I outline a strategy for making sure that our early drafts don’t become unmanageable.
- In Is It All Writing?, I wonder whether the nomenclature that we use to define the various stages of writing matters.
- In The Faintest Ink, I discuss the importance of getting things down on paper before we forget them.
- In Writing as Thinking, I reiterate my commitment to exploratory writing in response to an articulation of an opposing view.
- In Writing as Yourself, I talk about how to use the weaknesses of early drafts to create better final drafts.
II. Revision: In Committing to Extensive Revision, the second key principle, I acknowledge that transforming early drafts into suitable final drafts will require extensive revision. In subsequent posts, I go on to discuss why revising our own work is so hard and how we might do it better.
- In Revising Out Loud, I articulate how important it can be to develop a process for committing to our own writing, even before we tackle revision.
- In The Craft of Revision, I discuss my approach to the task of revision, from start to finish.
- In Remembering to Edit, I present some strategies for ensuring that we keep our eyes on the task of revision.
- In Available for Revision, I consider how decisions about technological platforms and formatting affect revision.
- In Bad News, Good News, I describe a common pattern: a lack of overall coherence despite local cohesion. In The Perils of Local Cohesion, I talk about the way that local cohesion can blind us to larger problems in our texts.
- In Best Laid Plans, I encourage writers to think about the ideal relationship between prior planning and actual writing.
- In Letting Go, I acknowledge how hard it can be to let go of hard-won text, even when it may not be serving any purpose.
- In Scaffolding Phrases, I introduce the distinction between writing that may be helpful to us as writers and writing that serves the ultimate goal of satisfying the reader.
- In Problem Sentences, I consider a radical revising solution: starting over.
- In Marking Up Your Text, I describe how to annotate your own writing to reveal patterns and problems.
- Finally, in Reverse Outlines, I discuss the best way to tackle structural problems in our writing. The process of reverse outlining get elaborated in my discussion of Literature Reviews and Reverse Outlines. In Truth in Outlining, I stress the importance of being honest when crafting reverse outlines. In Topic Sentence Paragraphs, I look at a strategy that helps us to see if we have created coherence in a late-stage draft.
III. Audience: In Understanding the Needs of the Reader, the last of my three key principles, I advocate using the needs of the reader as a guide for revision. The various ways in which audience awareness can help and hinder our writing has been a frequent topic in subsequent posts.
- In Audience and Anxiety, I acknowledge that while remembering the needs of the audience can help us with revision decisions, the spectre of being read can be a source of anxiety.
- In Self-Expression or Adherence to Form, I discuss a particular tension for graduate students: how to balance their desire for self-expression through writing with the expectations or predilections of their audience.
- In Understanding Incoherence, I talk about the legitimate conflict between the messiness of our developing ideas and the needs of the reader.
- In One-Way Trip, I consider what the reader is entitled to as they make their way through our texts.
- In Metadiscourse, I provide an overview of different types of metadiscourse. In Signposting and Metadiscourse, I look at what the reader will need in order to understand the structure of a text. In The Evolution of Signposting, I address a common complaint about metadiscourse. And, in You Know It and I Know It, I own up to overusing one of my favourite bits of metadiscourse.
IV. Identity: The first three sections explored ways to think about drafting, revision, and meeting the needs of our audience. Underlying all those activities is our ability to identify ourselves as academic writers.
- In Identifying Yourself as a Writer, I discuss the value of defining ourselves as writers.
- In Academic Writer as Identity, I argue that we may not be able to master academic writing until we embrace the pleasures and the challenges of being an academic writer.
- In Contribution and Voice in Academic Writing, I talk about how difficult it can be to write in a way that emphasizes our own contribution.
- In In Support of Academic Writing, I respond to some of the negativity surrounding academic writing, arguing that graduate students, who need to identify as writers, will suffer at the hands of this prevalent narrative.
- In Adopting a New Research Identity, I reflect on my own shifting identity as a scholar.
- In “Yes, you are a writer!”, I share some practical strategies for dealing with the ways in which identity challenges can affect our writing.
V. Writing Challenges: Throughout this blog, I have attempted to address the emotional and psychological challenges associated with academic writing.
- In Confronting the Anxiety of Academic Writing, I try to unpack the reasons that the writing task causes so much anxiety.
- In Write Your Way Out, I tackle the issue of writer’s block, suggesting that some writing challenges may be more intellectual than psychological. If we accept that possibility, we may then be able to use the activity of writing to help tackle those intellectual challenges.
- In Comparing Insides and Outsides, I suggest that we are almost always too hard on our own writing and insufficiently attentive to the challenges faced by others.
- In Imposter Syndrome and Academic Writing, I evaluate whether imposter syndrome is a useful framework for understanding the challenges of academic writing.
- In Writing and Enjoyment, I consider whether we should aspire to enjoy academic writing. In a related post, Observing without Judging, I reflect on the possibility that we can think about the negative emotions associated with writing while allowing for the possibility of growth.
VI. Mechanics: My treatment of writing mechanics is divided into four categories: punctuation; sentences; structure; usage.
- In Sentences, I talk about three key strategies for crafting strong sentences.
- In A Question of Parallelism, I look at the importance of using parallelism to guide our readers through our sentences.
- In Paragraphs, I explain how paying more attention to paragraphs will allow us to write more reader-friendly texts. This topic gets further elaborated in these later posts: What Are Your Paragraphs Doing For You? and Breaking Points.
- In Transitions, I discuss how managing transitions skillfully allows us to create more coherent texts.
- In Writing Effective Lists, I talk about the importance of managing the lists that we rely on so heavily in academic writing. More on lists can be found in these later posts: Lists: Backwards and Forwards and Structural Lists.
- In Fear of Error and Impactful Pet Peeves, I talk about the inhibiting effect of writing for an audience informed by a hyper-critical approach to writing.
- In Style Conventions and Graduate Student Writing, I consider the particular challenges faced by graduate students when making writing decisions against the backdrop of inevitable linguistic shifts.
- In Choosing the Singular They, I declare my intention to use they as a singular pronoun.
- In Authorial First Person, I answer a perennial question: Is it okay to use the first person in academic writing?
VII. Productivity: No matter how much we know about all these writing issues, most of us still struggle with productivity. As this blog has developed, I’ve devoted more and more time to reflecting on the tensions surrounding the need to be productive.
- In Writing Right Now, I stress that nobody should feel pressured to work during times of trauma and upheaval.
- In Can You Have Too Much Writing Time?, I reflect on the fact that having time for writing is often an opportunity rather than a solution and then suggest a strategy for taking advantage of that opportunity.
- In The Pace of Academic Writing, I express our common frustration with how long writing can take.
- In Writing and Not Writing, I talk about all the things we do under the category of writing. In A Change is as Good as a Rest, I consider the benefits of shifting among tasks as a way to maintain productivity.
- In Writing without Inspiration, I reflect on the dangers of waiting until we are inspired to write. And in Inspiring Prose, I wonder about the ways in which excellent prose can spur us on as writers.
- In Silent Sociability, I review my experience offering a boot camp for dissertation writers.
- In Priority and Productivity, I reflect on my own challenges with prioritizing and my ambivalence about the productivity framework.
- In A Productive Process, I articulate how focusing on a productive writing process might help us reach our goals without the stress associated with the pressure to be productive.
- In Productivity: An Ethical Approach, I respond to a student’s insightful reflection on the implications of the way we frame our writing obligations.
- In Academic Writing Month, I discuss the inauguration of this annual event in 2012. In AcWriMo Reflections, I look at what I learned from a month spent writing in public. In AcWriMo is at Hand!, AcWriMo is Here Again!, and Are You Ready for AcWriMo 2015?, I comment on the arrival of the 2013, 2014, and 2015 iterations.
VIII. Graduate Writing: While many of my posts are potentially of interest to a wide range of academic writers, some are explicitly geared towards graduate student writers. In this section, I list posts on topics associated specifically with graduate writing, including thesis writing.
- In Unpacking Professional Development for Graduate Students, I offer an overview of the different species of professional development for graduate students. While this post isn’t specifically about graduate writing, it does provide a broader context for writing support during graduate study.
- In “Shouldn’t I already know how to write?”, I respond to a reader who feels that her writing skills are deficient.
- In Using Resources for Thesis Writing, I talk about the value of broadening the range of resources used to support thesis writing. In The Supervisory Relationship, I emphasize the necessity of developing strategies for managing the supervisory relationship.
- In Thesis Writing Groups, I list some questions to help identify the ideal configuration of writing community.
- In Autonomy and Doctoral Study, I consider the tension between adequate writing and research support and the potential for a loss of autonomy.
- In Writing for a Presentation, I look at strategies for crafting a text that will be used for an oral presentation. In The Writing on the Slides, I reflect on the way we approach writing presentation slides.
- In Communication and Content, I discuss the hazards for graduate writers of making a distinction between communication skills and the underlying material being communicated.
- In Putting it in Your Own Words, I talk about the challenges of paraphrasing and the value of deepening our understanding of the role of sources in our work.
- Lastly, there are posts that look at genres specific to the thesis:
IX. Blogging and Social Media: Inevitably, the focus of the blog occasionally shifts from academic writing to blogging in particular and social media more generally.
- In Social Media and Writing Style, I consider some ways in which writing for social media may affect our writing style.
- In Blogging as an Academic Activity, I offer some early reflections on the way writing this blog constitutes part of my academic activity.
- In My Very Own Blog, I reflect on some of the benefits of having a single-authored blog.
- In Social Media and Expertise, I ponder the way that authority works in the realm of social media advice. This topic gets further elaborated in Local vs. Global: A World of Advice.
X. Resources: Finally, in Key Sources, I give a list of published resources to support academic writing at the graduate level. An expanded treatment of this topic can be found in “Can you recommend a good book on writing?”.
XI. Book Reflections: During 2020–21, I will be posting a series of reflections on my experience writing a book about academic writing for graduate students.
- In Writing Introductions: First or Last?, I reflect on the benefit of writing introductions at the beginning, even when we aren’t yet sure of the exact contours of the project we are introducing.
- In Writing Old Words into New, I reflect on how to draw upon previously written material while writing something new.
- In Living Without Links, I reflect on the loss of the hyperlink as I make the transition from blogging to book writing.
- In The Lure of Planning, I reflect on the value of pushing ahead with writing instead of pausing to plan and re-plan.
- In Personalizing Your Revision Process, I reflect on the importance of knowing your own tendencies as an academic writer.
- In There’s Always December, I reflect on #AcWriMo2020 and the benefits of virtual writing community.
- In Writing and the Fear of the Future, I reflect on a paradox that can make it hard to finish an academic writing project: the closer you get to being done, the more anxiety you may feel about the reactions of your eventual reader.
- In Deadline Mindset, I reflect on different ways of orienting ourselves towards writing deadlines.