A wise scholar once told me that the difference between being able to recognize a good piece of writing and producing one ourselves is akin to something like watching the Olympics and participating in them. Fitting or not, I always found this metaphor to be a useful one when questioning the relationship between reading and writing: To be good writers, do we also need to be good readers? And if so, What is good reading exactly about and how does one do it?
To complicate things further, we can think of a third process, or a third way of being part of the Olympics: helping others participate in them. Being able to do this doesn’t necessarily mean you could qualify to participate yourself, although it does involve a great deal of watching the games. A useful question to ask regarding this could be something like, How do we help each other write better?
When we decided to organize a workshop on academic writing, we did not quite imagine how enjoyable and rewarding it would all turn out to be. Our Academic Writing Clinic – as we chose to name it – was our first attempt to organize a peer-to-peer workshop in which early-career higher education researchers would gather to talk about good practices, challenges, pitfalls, mistakes, and not least the many myths integral to the academic writing practice nowadays.
From the outset we knew we had to go beyond our personal experience and our own private wisdoms about writing and likely have them challenged. So we read books, searched blogs, watched videos, and discussed among ourselves. We also asked around. We approached colleagues who have made important contributions to the field of higher education studies – as authors, editors, reviewers, and supervisors.
Thirty-eight of them were kind enough to take part in this exercise by sending us their thoughts on academic writing, sharing their views on common mistakes, offering pieces of advice, and recommending literature. We are very grateful for this and we would like to give all of them here a big THANK YOU for taking the time and especially for having inspired us to think of this beyond a single event.
As we were wrapping up our workshop last Tuesday evening, one thing became clear: the Academic Writing Clinic was only the beginning. The resources and inputs we collected over the past months, the material we prepared, the feedback we received from the participants, and not least our experience from the workshop itself, seemed to us too valuable to be kept away from a broader community of scholars, junior and senior alike.
Our next step will be to make as much of this material available on this website. This would not only make it accessible to a broader audience, but it would also make it a site of collective reflection on what academic writing is all about, in the field of higher education studies and beyond.
Jelena Brankovic is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany. Currently she is trying to figure out how to get as many people as possible to help make ECHER a more relevant organization for the community. She is also one of the lead editors of ECHER Blog. You can follow her on Twitter.