Narrative Writing: Scholarly Narrative Overview -->

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Narrative Writing: Scholarly Narrative Overview

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In the coming weeks on this blog, our Blog Team will take an in-depth look at a common (yet complex) type of academic writing that Walden University students are often asked to write: Scholarly Narrative Writing Assignments. Narrative writing is mostly associated with creative writing and other forms of informal prose. However, as scholar-practitioners, Walden students must be prepared to share their professional and academic experiences in a variety of scholarly contexts. With that in mind, over the next few weeks this blog will feature expert advice to help writers strike that perfect balance between formal exposition and personal descriptive writing. We hope you learn and enjoy! 
Scholarly Narrative Overview Title Slide

The world of academic writing has always had a complex relationship with personal narratives. In some scholarly situations, personal narratives are appropriate, but this isn’t always the case. One thing that can sometimes be confusing in academic writing is knowing when to use personal narratives in your work. For example, in completing personal reflection assignments, using a narrative is a good idea. The main point here is that use of personal narrative, as all of your writing, should build your authority and credibility with the reader.

One pitfall with personal narratives is a problem of evidence. This is where I see students most often using narratives ineffectively. Personal narratives relay anecdotal evidence. Though you personally may have experienced something, your personal experience is not necessarily indicative of a larger phenomenon. Because one event happened to you, that doesn’t mean that this is a common occurrence that many others have experienced in the same way. Statistical anomalies happen, and they do not reflect the situation accurately.

Here’s an example: a great deal of research supports the idea wrestling wild bears can cause injury. Now one may say, “my uncle wrestled a wild bear, and he was not injured.” Ok, sure, that did happen, but this is the exception not the rule in this situation. Therefore, you want to avoid using personal narrative as support for your points. This is anecdotal evidence and is not as strong as peer-reviewed, scholarly research with a large and diverse sample size.

Though it is not appropriate to use personal narrative as evidence, personal narrative is appropriate when reflection is involved. This is the case because reflection is all about looking back at your own experiences with a critical eye. To help you do this correctly, here are some general tips that can help you:

Be Honest – when a student is asked to reflect on how a theory or idea can be incorporated into their workplace, for example, it is important to be honest about the situation. These real-life based assignments are common in master’s programs and are ideally suited to the use of personal narrative.

Think Critically – Students can be protective of their role, company, or project when engaging in personal reflection. It is important to give yourself enough space to correctly recognize what was done well in your past and, more importantly, what can be done better. Avoid being apologetic. The point of personal reflection is to look back on your actions with a critical eye. So, when crafting a personal narrative to do this, don’t sugarcoat your critique.

Join the Conversation – Similarly to number 2, students are often asked to reflect on how they will apply the content of a course into their lives. As a scholar, it is incumbent on you to provide an honest critique, even if it is regarding a professor or course content. Failing to sincerely critique your academic experiences honestly makes your writing feel quite generic or even as filler. Note: these reflections are for academic purposes and are not an opportunity for a student to air their grievances with a particular instructor or class. Critiques need to be supported and professional in tone.

Personal narratives can be a tricky thing, but they are an important part of scholarship in their facilitation of personal reflection. Do not use personal narrative to support your points or arguments unless they are indicative of larger phenomena. This is the place for your research. Lastly, when you are using personal narrative, treat it honestly, critically, and professionally. Scholarship is really about being part of a conversation. When you do use your own personal experiences, be sure that it is in a way that builds your authority and credibility in the reader’s eyes.   

Michael Dusek is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. He has taught writing at universities in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and enjoys helping students improve their writing. To Michael, the essay is both expressive and formal, and is a method for creative problem solving. In his personal life, he enjoys the outdoors, books, music, and all other types of art. 

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