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Writing Mentor

"Academic writing, reading, and inquiry are inseparably linked and all three are learned by not doing any one alone, but by doing them all at the same time."

- James Reither

Supporting the Development of Your Academic Writing

In Reading Rhetorically, John Bean and his coauthors tell us that academic writing "requires writers to read and synthesize multiple texts so that they can create a new document with an audience and purpose quite different from those of the original documents" (102). At the graduate level, writers use their reading to situate their own original research within an ongoing conversation about their topic. That is, their reading (often presented in the form of a literature review) provides background and context for the question they have posed and for the research findings they present in response to their question.

Kenneth Burke describes an apocryphal encapsulation of academic argument and academic conversations as follows:

"Imagine you enter a parlor. You come in late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress" (The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, 3rd ed., 110-11).

Thinking about academic writing as a way to join an ongoing conversation in order to share what you know and have learned (perhaps from your research) is a productive way to conceptualize what you are trying to do when you write a course paper, a Master's thesis, or a doctoral dissertation. Your purpose is to present your claim(s) in a logical and orderly fashion, and then demonstrate their validity through a presentation of logical reasoning and evidence. Your audience is others, like yourself, interested in being in conversation about similar issues.