Monday, 18 January 2021

Giving our power away

One regular piece of feedback I find I give my students is about giving their power away. This is, of course, based on the feedback I had from more experienced academics, who kindly critiqued my writing. From this, my own writing has improved, and I can pass on the advice. However, unlike those "broken telephone" games where we pass on a message from person to person until it is garbled beyond understanding, this is a message that experienced academics provide clearly, year on year. 

Giving away power in our writing one of those key mistakes which we junior researchers make - we bow down to honour the experts who came before us, and leaving the original writer at the centre of our reuse. We give our power to the creator of the idea, keeping them in focus, and put their ideas to the back. 

The trouble is that, when we write with the author at the centre, it prevents us from synthesising the literature. We instead write a paragraph solely about that author, or that author's research project. Then we write about the next author, in another paragraph. We limp through our writing, author by author, unable to synthesise the ideas, as the experts are the focus of our writing... as Patter's says, in a 'laundry list' fashion (Thomson, 2017). 

What inspired this post was that a student emailed me a piece of work, and I went to write the same advice I have given many times... so it was obviously a good time to revisit the topic in a blog post. The student's work read as follows:

In their book Demonstrating Student Success, A Practical Guide to Outcomes-Based Assessment of Learning and Development in Student Affairs, Bresciani, Gardner & Hickmott state that: "Quantitative methods use numbers for interpreting data, are traditionally favoured and offer a variety of data collection tools (Maki 2004)" (2009, p. 59).

Ah. The joys of putting the authors at the centre. I went back the student with the following advice, and a top-of-mind rewrite suggestion:

You are giving your power away. You are writing with the author at the centre, instead of writing from the central idea. Having had a quick read through the preceding pages and the following page, to show you what I mean, a suggested rewrite could be:

Quantitative approaches in career practice are those which use the mathematical and statistical analysis of client data, gathered via quantitative assessment tools (Bresciani et al., 2009, citing Maki, 2004).

Writing this way leaves you able to expand the argument you are developing by adding in other authors who are proposing similar ideas.

It is so easy to see when someone points it out to you. But it is very hard to see this ourselves when we are inexperienced.



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