On the lack of training

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In response to the introduction of this blog, I was told about ‘The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation’ project based at the University of Lancaster and conducted by  Karin Tusting, Mary Hamilton and David Barton. This is a project that looks at the writing practices of academics in the contemporary university workplace. More information about the project is available here.

I found the project very interesting. As an aspiring academic, I was curious to learn about the writing practices of those who are ten steps ahead of me. However, in the end, what stroke me the most as I read through the slides from a recent presentation of the findings of the project and what made me consider publishing this blog post was not the description of what academics do. It was the void in training in writing for academics that became clear from what the academics who had been interviewed for the project say.

Most of the academics who were interviewed for the project say that writing is central to what they do, that they have to engage in many different forms of writing such as writing for publications, administrative writing, writing as a part of communication with students and other staff and that they have received little or no training at all in any of these forms. Writing was the skill that they had to develop on their own. This certainly resonates with my own experience!

I find that in academia writing is the skill that is assumed and little support is available for developing it. To be fair, feedback from supervisors on the drafts of a PhD thesis can be seen as training in writing but this is training mainly in organizing ideas and writing them clearly and with style. But what about developing productive and sustainable writing practices? The only help that I received with it from my university was a guest lecture by Hugh Kearns called ‘Turbocharge your writing’, which was absolutely amazing but which left me hungry for more. Fortunately, there are plenty of books and online resources available out there that teach how to approach writing as a process but wouldn’t it be great if also workshops were offered?

Developing productive and sustainable writing practices and learning to organize ideas and write them clearly and with style are important but, as the findings of ‘The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation’ project suggest, much more is required of academics in terms of writing. However, from personal experience I can say that there is little understanding that there is more to writing than writing up the research output. Similarly, there is little understanding that even with writing up the research output, it is not only about linguistic correctness and scholarly thoroughness.

I still remember the response that I received to my suggestion to introduce training in writing that I gave to a member of staff within my department who could potentially instigate the development of such training. I was told that such training was already available and was referred to the training in writing introduction, literature review, etc., using citation software, proofreading as well as the service of the language center. I have attended most of this training and found it absolutely invaluable. However, I cannot but feel that it has helped me only with a certain aspect of writing and that there is much more to be talked about and learned about writing. I still find it interesting that it was so difficult for me to communicate this idea to this member of staff.

Do you agree with these observations or is it me just being obsessed with writing? What was your experience with mastering the skill? Please answer in the comments below. I do really wonder what you think!

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2 thoughts on “On the lack of training

  1. You are right that the assumption tends to be made that academics can already write. ‘If you have a PhD, you must be able to write’ – this sort of sentiment. Of course, there is some truth in this, but good writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Academics are subject to multiple, often competing, demands on their time and attention, and this can make developing productive and sustained writing practices very tough. The focus at policy level is mainly on ‘outputs’, but as we know the text one eventually produces is but the tip of the iceberg. Behind every publication, lie hours and hours of thought, discussion, reading, note-taking, revising, anxiety, submission and re-submission and, basically, blood sweat and tears (and perhaps some joy, especially when it is finally published).

    One of our participants on the Dynamics of Knowledge Creation project said something quite telling about this. Pushed to produce 4-star publications, he said that he was reasonably confident that he could do this once, but the struggle was keeping it up. Publishing 4-star papers year in, year out is a big ask and we are not robots. Unless productive and supportive cultures exist to nurture the writing process as well as the final product, it can become a very dispiriting business.

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    1. Thank you, Sharon, for the response. It is so nice to have here a perspective from the developers of the ‘Dynamics of Knowledge Creation’ project itself!

      Liked by 1 person

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