Writing Well, Writing Academically…A Response


You said:

“It's happened again. A friend has asked me to read a paper.”

I never asked you to read a paper.

You asked me:

“Have you published? If so, where can we find your work?”

Also, you said:

“When I chide my friend and say that nothing leaves me colder than the cookie-cutter "application" of currently popular theory to a case trimmed to fit, he replies that he has to do this to be published in an academic journal. “

I never said that. I replied:

“…after all, it is an academic paper. I am sure that you are aware that there are certain rules one must conform to when writing for an academic audience.”

Please get your facts straight!

Further, different readers have different ideas about what constitutes good writing style, and so do different universities, colleges, academic departments, instructors and publishers albeit there are some basic guiding rules common to all. Also and in the spirit of Foucault, I am always skeptical of notions that claim to be universally valid, obvious or the incontestably apparent. Finally, I am forwarding a list of the distinguished “academicians,” publishers and editors from Italy and Germany that reviewed the paper prior to publishing it.

Italy (socio-cultural anthropology peer group review committee)

Prof. Lorenzo Brutti, Musée du Quai Branly, CNRS, France - Ethnology
Dr. Silvia Pieroni, Ethnographic Museum, Documentation Centre "Il Tamburo Parlante" - Medical Anthropology
Dr. Sandra Busatta, Hako Magazine - American Anthropology
Prof. Ignazio E. Buttitta, University of Sassari - Ethnology
Dr. Emaj Uddin, Department of Social Work, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh - Social Anthropology

Germany (editorial publishing review committee)

Dr. Julius Mittenzwei, CTO
Patrick Hammer, Business Development
Tanja Hammer, Editorial Staff
Matthias Knoop, Editorial Staff
Georg Steinbach , Development

But just the same John, allow me to thank you for your “critique.”


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Comment by Neil Turner on April 24, 2010 at 10:25pm
John, thanks for your reply and advice; you have regained my respect. Best to you.

Comment by John McCreery on April 24, 2010 at 5:10pm
Neil, I didn't say it was a bad paper. In fact, I found parts of it quite moving. Most of the more "academic" part, I didn't. I know why you thought you had to write it. I know why people who expect academic writing to be written that way thought it was fine. I do not assert authority. I simply note that it took me a long time to get to what I thought was the heart of the matter, and had I not already been engaged in our conversation, I might not have gotten to the part of the paper I found deeply moving. That is information you can and will do with as you will. Full stop.

Before we part I recall the advice given to me by a very wise woman named Alice Buzzarte, shortly after I was hired as a copywriter by a large Japanese advertising agency. I was still tender and prickly, mortified by having failed to get tenure during my first and only full-time academic job. "John," Alice said, "to succeed in our business you will have to develop a thick skin. You must realize that at least three out of four of your brilliant ideas are going straight into the trash can." She was right. It took me a while to get comfortable with taking feedback from people who had no trouble at all telling me when what I had written was dull, mistaken, off-strategy, or other wise not good enough. Then I began to learn to write.


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