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What Is “Scholarly Writing”?

April 29th, 2015 by wrightcenter

In a workshop hosted by the Chemistry Department this semester, a group of 25 JSU graduate students asked, "What is 'scholarly writing'?" We love questions like this, especially when students look to us for an explanation. The students said they heard about scholarly writing a lot and weren't sure what their professors meant.

Instead of explaining, however, we turned the question back to the students and asked what they thought scholarly writing might be. We also asked what might be one aspect of non-scholarly writing. One woman said, "Sometimes I write the way I speak." We then discussed how we often write like this when we're first getting our ideas down on paper, but when we write for a scholarly audience, we need to develop a more formal voice.

We talked about what being formal might include. In general it means to be more specific with our word choice. We then talked about using vocabulary specific to the field, which includes words students might not yet recognize, and about the importance of learning those words and using them accurately. Each field, we also mentioned, has different conventions for the use of personal pronouns.

We also discussed that formal writing is straightforward and specific in descriptions of an issue or process. Scholarly writing has clear organization: The introduction includes an identifiable thesis statement and "map" (brief outline of main points), and each section or body paragraph follows that map.

One student said she thought non-scholarly writing meant that there was not enough evidence to support an idea. So we talked about how it is important to seek credible, scholarly evidence and use it to support whatever we assert in our papers or presentations as well as how it is important to cite and document sources according to the style for our particular field.

Scholarly writing also involves seeking feedback as we write or prepare a presentation, even a poster, to make sure we are being clear, accurate, and relevant––to make sure we are meeting our audience's expectations. All professional writers seek feedback from colleagues, professors, mentors, and peers––including peer and graduate tutors in the Richard Wright Center (RWC). That is why JSU provides the RWC––we are a community of scholars in the making. As we write for our scholarly audience, we all need feedback along the way!

Kathi R. Griffin and Tatiana Glushko

 

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