Thursday, October 04, 2007

Writing for Scholarly Publication

I've been reading Anne Huff's Writing for Scholarly Publication (Sage, 1999) with great interest. In many ways, she saves me the trouble of having to write a book of my own. "The tone, formal excercises, and shameless advice" (ix) she provides are largely in keeping with my own approach. There's even an appendix about academic writing for non-native speakers of English. I definitely recommend getting a hold of this book (unless you're already tired of hearing my advice).

Huff invokes Thomas Kuhn at the very beginning of the book to support the idea that academic writing is a "conversation" (3). She could perhaps also have mentioned him in her chapter on "exemplars" (55-63), which is a very Kuhnian notion. Indeed, Huff's book can be read as a handbook for participation in what Kuhn called "normal science", i.e., research carried out within a paradigm. And that is also largely the approach I suggest.

My twist on this, if I have one, is perhaps to suggest a "dangerous supplement". That's Derrida's term for the stickiness of the nature/culture or knowledge/power or science/politics or research/management distinctions. Huff gets us to appreciate the importance of a scholarly community, but she understates the importance of rogues and bandits—the fellowship of thieves that lurks behind any text.

In a sense, she takes the scientific pretensions of academic writing a bit too seriously. The corrective is to see academic texts in relation to not just paradigms, which take scientific communities for granted, but also discourses, which shape science at a deeper (or at least broader) level and are continuously undermined by strategy and desire. That is, if I were to write such a book, I would probably choose Michel Foucault over Kuhn when establishing the background.

This does not make the problem of academic writing any less practical. And even deconstructivists are going to have to think about what they will write in the introduction and conclusions of their papers. They will have to identify examples of work done by others to guide them. They will be looking to get into (and out of) various key conversations. They will have to plan their writing process as part of their research process. And they will have to express themselves in good English.

That is, all of Huff's advice holds also under "postmodern" conditions. In fact, the "shameless" practicality of Huff's book already anticipates everything I might add.