About This Blog

Note: This blog, which was once about academic writing, is retired. On September 23, 2016, I took it out of retirement to write about the Geoff Marcy/Sarah Ballard harassment case, which I've found myself thinking a lot about. I will not be writing about anything else in the foreseeable future.

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This was a blog about academic writing, especially in the social sciences. It is no longer active, but you're welcome to browse through its archive.

Like any weblog, the main purpose was to keep track of my thoughts. The public nature blogging, however, forced me to strive for a certain measure of coherence. Writing something with the knowledge that anyone can read it when you're done is a very different experience from keeping a private journal of your thoughts or working on a text that may or may not be published months from now. Tom Wolfe once said that many writers of his generation turned to journalism in order to "work some of the fat out of their style". I blogged, in part, to keep my prose in shape.

But my aim, of course, was also to share my experiences. I'm a freelance writing consultant working mainly in Copenhagen, and I spend much of my time editing papers written by researchers and guiding their development as writers. I also help them to plan their writing processes. Through this work, I have become increasingly interested in the craft of academic writing, indeed, in the craft dimension of research in general. I think the craft of research is too often neglected with the vague (hardly articulated) justification that theory and method are more important.

The overall aim of the posts archived here is to help improve the quality of academic prose. That means I often wrote about "composition", i.e., the art of putting words together in an effective way. While "good" writing can often be distinguished from "bad" writing in a general way, however, I wanted to emphasize the virtues of academic writing specifically. Academic prose is governed by a great many conventions that sometimes irritate non-academics and students (and even some academics), but once its scope and limits are understood the challenge of writing well in this area offers a great many satisfactions.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that academic writing is intended for an audience of knowledgeable peers. Its aim is to present ideas in such a way that they can be discussed by the relevant experts, i.e., by people who are qualified to offer criticism, not of the writing, but of the subject matter that is being written about. Academic texts must present both the idea and the basis on which that idea may be defended in a clear and efficient manner, and they must do so to an audience that may be presumed to know almost as much (and on some points more) than the writer. This makes academic writing very different from popular writing, where the writer presumes to know much more about the subject than the reader. The craft of academic writing, then, is the craft of writing "knowingly". It is the art of presenting what you know to people who know enough to decide whether or not you really do.