The Gift of Authenticity: “Keeping it Real” for All Seasons

The best writing advice that I can offer during this season of giving is that of authenticity: “keep it real.” This somewhat relates to my October 2013 (“tricks and treats”) blog, but whereas that blog focused on topic, I’m talking here specifically about the actual writing. This advice applies primarily to academic writing since that’s the genre most likely to involve the tendency of writers’ forcing ideas into language that sounds “right,” a challenge that is not as related to personal writing such as journals. For personal writing, we’re more likely to write exactly what we think since it is not being evaluated, whereas, for academic writing, many student writers tend to focus more on what the evaluators (i.e., instructors) think is “correct.” Or, if the project involves research, student writers can be too concerned with whether the expressed ideas jive with what the “experts” say. While it is crucial to keep in mind our audience(s), too much preoccupation with saying the “right” thing can often lead to writing that sounds artificial, ambiguous, and/or unclear.

For my own academic writing, I typically focus on this issue somewhere in the middle of my project, after I’ve gotten my general ideas together and have integrated most of my research. When I read what I’ve written, I do so with an eye for whether my written words match what I actually think and don’t just parrot what has been written by others. This process helps me analyze my ideas more deeply, by asking myself questions like: What am I really trying to say here? Am I just summarizing and merely explaining to my own readers what others have already said/written? What do I really think about this particular aspect? Some signals I have learned to look out for are repetitiveness and ambiguity. If my writing is overly repetitive, I can bet that I am summarizing too much. If it’s ambiguous or unclear, I ask myself if I really understand the concepts and if I have adequately formulated my own ideas.

My revision strategies for these types of issues typically involve revisiting my readings to make sure I have an adequate understanding of them. This is important because it’s only after I have this fundamental understanding that I can truly evaluate and analyze. Generally, my re-reading results in an “ahh, I get it now” moment, and I begin new writing that helps me articulate my new understanding or perspective. This new writing is almost always much more analytical, stronger, clearer, and, in effect, more representative (“real”) of my own ideas. I can revise the rest of my writing more easily after I have this basic, but essential, understanding and personal perspective that I can express and develop more fully as I write and revise. I usually follow this process with a subsequent re-reading that focuses primarily on my language. Many writers tend to prefer language that makes us “sound smart,” but sometimes this can lead to too much jargon or convoluted structures that interfere with clarity. When revising for sentence-level concerns like word choice, I make an effort to prioritize preciseness and clarity, even if that means substituting more sophisticated polysyllabic words with more simple language that is more direct and clear. I know I have met my self-imposed goals of authenticity when I read my final version and get a clear sense that I have “kept real” both my ideas and my voice.

So, to reiterate my best advice: Give your writer-self the gift of authenticity during this, and every, season.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>