Reading is key to developing your understandings of what makes good academic writing. Anthropologist Ruth Behar (2020) suggests that academic writers shouldn’t stop at the classic texts in their discipline, but also read other genres. She says
We need to read poetry to understand silences and pauses. To challenge the oppression of punctuation. To learn how to make words sing. To liberate ourselves from chalky paragraphs.
We need to read fiction to learn how to tell a story with conflict, drama and suspense. To tell a story that leaves us breathless.
We need to read memoir to learn how to write meaningfully about our own experiences.
Children’s books should be on our shelves, to keep our souls full of wonder. (p. 48)
If you are in the middle of revising a draft, or coming to the end of a big text you won’t want to stop right now to read. But now might be the very time that you need to step back. It is always worth considering taking a little time out to refresh your take on academic writing. Through using reading.
You might find it interesting to experiment with a structured approach to using reading for writing. Here are four reading-based strategies to refresh ideas. Four to begin with. Adapt them, invent your own.
(1) Take an extract of published writing from your field, perhaps a classic that is generally understood as good writing. Rewrite it. Now compare your version with the original. What is textually different about the two? Does this help you to see what to do in your rewriting? (adapted from Narayan, 2012)
(2) Take a published text that you consider to be in need of some rewriting. And rewrite it. What was it that concerned you? Are there things like these to change in your own draft?
(3) Find a few texts that challenge the dominant modes of writing in your field. What do they do differently? Can you incorporate any of these differences into your writing?
(4) Find a published text that is something like yours. Read it slowly looking at the writing. What mood does the writer create? How does the writer manage the pace of their narrative? How do they use sentence structure and length to convey rhythm? If there is direct speech used, how is it introduced and incorporated? What metaphors are used? Are there novel categorisations? How did the writer manage their tenses? Where, how and why did they use adjectives and adverbs and to what effect? What kind of punctuation did they use?
Some simple ways to generate new possibilities for your own writing. Via reading.