August 13, 2009


Follow-up to Paper on the processes of reflection from Alison's blog

I tried something different with this paper. An MA participant and I were discussing the differences in writing at M-level in different disciplines. I thought he might find it useful to see how an academic paper in my discipline of education was composed, so I sent him a copy, suggesting he didn't focus too much on the content but looked at the style, structure, ways of composing and justifying an argument, and other aspects which I sensed would differ from his own disciplinary practice. A day later, to my amusement, dismay yet pleasure, I received the following feedback from him.

Dear Alison

Indeed questions do abound from paper, possibly more to do with content than structure however, as discussed at our meeting I am a big fan of complexity but the complexity you have introduced tends to mask the structure as I struggle with the domain specific jargon, and that's with a background in knowledge acquisition in a knowledge based engineering environment that spanned two universities as a research fellow, over a period of 6 years. So you got your own back on me there.

It's English but not as we know it, for instance I would have used in stead of your jargon:

Lacuna: "small gap"

Epistemology: "a branch of philosophy studying the nature of knowledge"

Existential: "human existence"

Selfhood: "unique identity"

Synchronically considered: "studying something at a point in time"

Diachronically: "the study of something through time"

Ontically Distinct: no idea I assume its ontologically distinct?

Internalisation: the adoption of others ideas

Objectivation: no idea what that means?

Dialectal: "linguistically"

Retrojected: something than is rejected in retrospect, I hazard a guess?

I am not sure how you can have a phenomenological meaningless experience when that is the study of conscious experience, and chow you can have a non acquiring knowledge experience unless of course you are lecturing 1st year students after a bad night at the student bar.

Alison I have abandoned this read at page five after spending 3 hours reading this, I am sorry but this is less fun than stabbing hot needles in my eyes. If this had been in plain English I might have enjoyed this, however the obverse was the case.

Hmmm. I have to take his point. The paper *is* 'specialist' and isn't written in 'plain English'. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all to make it available to him. Yet at the same time, his point is exactly mine: disciplines have their own way of expressing themselves. That includes language, style, structure, conventions such as referencing, arguing, going about the stuff of pushing the discipline further and advancing our understanding of it. It was maybe asking a bit much to thrust a full-blown academic paper at someone who hasn't got a background in the discipline... Lots of questions emerge.

  • What does this mean for academics from any discipline outside education who want to (or are required to) engage in post-graduate studies in education? How can we best introduce them to the conventions of the discipline? How far can we allow them to deviate from those conventions? Is it fair to expect them to pick them up almost by osmosis, having read what is often a comparatively small sample of the relevant literature?
  • Is the literature itself accessible to people from other disciplines? Although my paper was well into post-doc, professional researcher territory, so are a number of the books and papers we recommend that participants on our programmes (especially PCAPP) read and refer to. Indeed, this paper might well be included in a list of recommended texts.
  • I have other 'students' who recognise the challenges and who put a lot of effort into reading up on how to write a critically reflective essay, how to signpost, how to construct an argument, etc. But this is hugely time-consuming and they have to be extremely motivated to do this. Is there a quick way or a short cut? Probably not.

I shall go on reflecting and thinking, as well as discussing with participants about these issues. Any comments posted to this blog would be welcome!

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Well that went well then, apart from a couple of my typos, which I would have hoped you would have corrected for me. Tony

    21 Aug 2009, 18:33

  2. Anthony Ingram

    Further to our interesting conversation about educational academic writing, it automatically brings to the fore the question, “is this why academics are hated by the rest of the normal population” as we disguise what is simple with over complex language?

    The term “Veiled in Allegory & Illustrated by Symbols” comes to mind! A biblical phraseology indeed, let me indulge you:
    From Ecclesiastes 12, 3

    “In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened.”

    That small but eloquent passage clearly describes the human condition and eventual death, but how many people read that and go, oh yes I get that!

    Alison you didn’t mention the book that I had authored and sent you to read, it was book two of a trilogy on the history and explanation of Masonic ritual, a riveting read.
    1. The Tongue of Good Report
    2. The Hidden Mysteries of Nature & Science
    3. Raised on the Five Points of Fellowship
    Now from my point of view the books were meant to engage all, as part of my altruistic need to communicate with people and pass on knowledge, now where does education academic writing fill that need, when no one can understand what has been written outside of your realm of experience. From my engineering view point educational academic writing fulfils a need for only a restricted band of even academic reading capability, and so can only be postured as inward looking. It’s a personal perspective of course 

    22 Aug 2009, 11:26

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