On Whose Authority? -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

On Whose Authority?

Tobias Ball

By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

While interviewing a candidate for an editor vacancy, I asked about something from his work history, the job of writing instructor. I asked how he taught writing. After a long pause, the candidate offered some of the tips that most writers have heard, such as setting time aside every day specifically for writing, sharing work with others, and one of the most popular bits of advice, writing what you know. Although it is often the case that fiction and academic writers share techniques for getting words on the page, this last method is less applicable.

When faculty are working with students to develop a problem statement, they ask them what it is about their topic that they do not know. One of the functions of a dissertation is to fill a gap in the literature, that gap representing something unknown about a topic. The fact that the topic is something unknown means that writing what you know is not really possible. This may leave the academic writer of a dissertation at a loss for inspiration and with concerns about writing with any sort of authority. There is a solution.

Another function of the dissertation is to contribute something new that will foster growth in a particular academic field. The venue for the discussion of such contributions is the academic literature. In the literature, readers find the reporting of successes and failures of experiments, analyses of original data, and multiple perspectives on a multitude of topics. It is here that writers both find their inspiration and establish their authority.

Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys), it is a good idea to read the literature. At some point, a dissertator will have to write a review of the literature; however, prior to offering analysis through synthesis, read some of it. Select a few articles, read them through, abstract to conclusion, and see how others have started and completed their own research. The result of spending time reading will be twofold.

First, taking the time to read the work of others, the reporting not only of their results, but also how the process came about, may offer ideas for topics, methodologies, and ways of communicating. Second, after reading a few articles, you will begin to know more about that particular topic. The more peer-reviewed articles you read, the more you know; the more you know, the greater your authority. Although it is a simple equation, it is true. Inspiration and authority have the same source.


  1. What a great blog! I read through the blog more than once to better understand your closing statement,"Inspiration and authority have the same source." I have worked as a dissertation editor for a graduate school and have taught quantitative research to undergraduates. I had not thought about the literature review as a source of inspiration, but it makes sense. I will soon begin a capstone project for my Ed.D. and plan to focus on scholarly writing skills of graduate students. I am following the Walden Writing Center blog as part of my coursework, and I find the blog to be a great source of inspiration. Thank you!

    1. Marsha, it's so exciting that you are beginning your EdD doc study! Be sure to use our resources, including live webinars on each section of the study. Go to http://writingcenter.waldenu.edu/415.htm for upcoming topics.

      Best of luck to you!

  2. Great blog. Although I am only just beginning my DBA, it'g great to see info like this well in advance. The thought of having to do a dissertation scares the "stuff" out of me. As I trek through my degree program, I know there is info out there and blogs like yours that will help me gain confidence as I approach my dissertation.

    1. Thanks, Anthony! Be sure to start flexing your writing muscles now so that it isn't so shocking once you do have to write the doc study.