From Creative to Scholarly
Monday, November 15, 2010 Expert Advice
By Hillary Wentworth, Graduate Writing Tutor
Do you ever ask yourself how you wound up here, writing scholarly papers and worrying about serial commas? Staying up late at night agonizing over whether to use “et al.”? Well, I do. You see, I’m a creative writer and I often find it hard to switch between my artistic endeavors and my academic pursuits. Imagination and creativity—traits that put you ahead in other areas—don’t necessarily translate to a scholarly venue. Lately students have been asking for tips to make this transition into academia. There are indeed ways to keep your creative “you-ness” and still write in the formal style expected of scholars.
1. Theme-ify it. Your paper doesn’t have to be stuffy summary—in fact, it shouldn’t be. Just as creative writing follows thematic lines, so should your academic writing. As you read, make note of the themes that emerge in the literature and consider organizing your paper around them.
2. Relate it to real life. Creative writers are told “write what you know." However, I encourage all writers to give real-life examples to illustrate the points they make. This could be a situation in your own classroom or business that highlights a certain theory, for instance.
3. Look it in the I. Both Walden and APA allow you to use the first-person “I” in your assignments and capstone projects. This gives a personal tone to your paper, eliminates the awkward “this author,” and asserts your control over the narrative. If you’re used to expressing how you feel and what you believe, though, rein in the impulse to provide opinion. You are a scholar and your writing should be based on evidence.
4. Turn it around. Similes and metaphors, the beautifiers of creative writing, are not accepted in scholarly writing because they can be vague and confusing. If you normally like to make connections through analogy, that impulse is correct: the topic probably needs further description. It is your job now to explain it in clear, concise language.
5. Write it out. Sometimes you just have to give in to the creative spirit. If you’re reading a scholarly journal and it gets your poetic juices flowing, sit down in a quiet spot (not at your computer) and write a poem about it. Then go back to your computer and start fresh. You might find that writing creatively has given you a new perspective on the topic that you can use in your scholarly paper.
6. Deal with it. One of my greatest discoveries as a creative writer was how to flourish under constraints. It can be yours too. Challenge yourself to work within the boundaries of APA, and you will reap the rewards.