You ARE a Writer, Whether You Know It or Not

writerPaul*, a colleague and dear friend of mine, called me on Skype the other day to mourn about the referee response he had received for a recent paper.

He was clearly annoyed, and probably rightly so. I have known him for many years and without doubts he is one of the best researchers I know. And I could share his frustration.

I let him speak and vent off his resentment.

Then, after a while, I asked him half-jokingly whether he wanted to write a guest post for my blog and share his experience.

His reply, however, took me by surprise!

“No, it’s not really my thing – he said – I am not a writer.”

I was baffled, but decided not to insist as he probably would not be bothered and certainly was not in the right mood to discuss this further. In my mind, however, I could not avoid thinking that he was wrong.

You see, as an academic, writing is really at the core of what you do.

Actually – you may argue - research is our top concern!

Fine.

But what would our research be worth if we were not able (or willing) to write about it and to communicate it effectively to our readers?

How could we pass on the knowledge, advances, and breakthroughs if not by writing about them in a way that would make sense to others?

And yet, arguing the importance of writing as a vehicle to communicate our research is only too easy. Of course – you’d agree – we need to write and share the results of our research!

But, perhaps you too, like my friend Paul, do not regard yourself as a writer.

But think about this… As an academic, you are expected to write all sorts of things: grant applications, research proposals, letters of reference, articles for journals and magazines, review papers, books or book chapters, conference papers, facility-time applications, annual reports, research statements, job applications, cases for promotion, resumes, Curriculum Vitae, exam papers. The list goes on.

I cannot think of any other job – apart from being a professional book writer or a journalist – whose core activity is so much centered on writing.

So, even if you do not regard yourself as a writer, the truth is that you are!

More than that, your success as an academic may well hinge on how well (and how much) you write, as Patricia Goodson rightly argues in her recent book, Becoming an Academic Writer. In fact, writing may well be the single most important tool of a successful academic career [1].

And it certainly pays off to learn to do it properly.

[1] P. Goodson, 2013: Becoming an Academic Writer – 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing, SAGE Publications Inc.

*Not his real name

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