Where research becomes story.
As you sit there at your desk day after day, papers and books scattered all around and time pressing down on you like a weight, what is the one deepest question driving you? What is the deepest why of your research?
Beneath the need for a paycheck, beneath the need to show your worth, beneath the imperative of productivity metrics, who are you trying to reach? And what are you trying to tell them? And what do you want your readers to do with the knowledge you communicate to them?
What do you want to happen to the world as a result of the knowledge you construct?
From these questions follows a pragmatic, tactical one: How can you actually write in such a way that your work moves readers? Informs and engages them, and reshapes reality in the ways you envision?
This is a much deeper and scarier question than how to get published, promoted, or praised. It forces you to reconnect with the deepest self who decided to become a scholar in the first place. It forces you to look straight at your subject and see what no one else has seen before. And it demands that you master writing techniques so sophisticated and abstruse that they have never been codified in any guidebook.
But how? Is it even possible to write like this?
Yes. I declare, unequivocally, that we can write like this. As someone who spends most of her waking hours rappelling with researchers through the deepest caverns of their writing processes, I am convinced that every diligent, persistent, and courageous scholar working today has the potential to write in a way that reaches readers and reshapes reality for the better. My basis for this claim is the conviction that the most powerful tools for writing are embedded in the writing process itself.
They are woven into the very fabric of the universe. And that’s why every one of us has access to them.
The tools I’m referring to are conceptual tools: frameworks, procedures, and habits of mind that can be called upon in the writing process to help us formulate and articulate our thoughts in a cohesive way. These tools emerge from the principles underlying complex argument construction and storytelling. They are tools for building and communicating new knowledge that are embedded within knowledge itself.
My mission is to help every researcher access these tools and use them to navigate their oceans of data and reams of rough drafts, so they can come out the other side with artfully constructed manuscripts that communicate the meaning of all that data to readers. I call these constructions Story-Arguments.
A Story-Argument is an intricately engineered sequence of claims and evidence, organized around a single central claim, that carries the reader forward, whether across 30 pages or 300, with a sense of urgency, suspense, and unfurling illumination. A Story-Argument builds elegantly from one sentence to the next, culminating in the final paragraph with a sense of how significant this story really is, and what new insights and questions are yielded by it. A Story-Argument is both an engineered machine and a beautifully composed work of art. It is the optimal container for communicating academic research findings.
Who is hurling all these questions and declarations at you?
I’m Margy Thomas, Ph.D., an erstwhile literature scholar who has spent the past decade studying academic genres, writing processes, and real live scholars. First as an academic, and then as a writing consultant and developmental/substantive editor, I have lavished Captain Ahab-esque attention on the question of how scholars across disciplines go about their writing, and the question of what makes an academic manuscript compelling and persuasive. The deep why of my work is to help scholars find and use the tools they need to navigate their writing processes and craft manuscripts that go beyond just getting published: manuscripts that truly engage and move readers, and do real work in the world.
How I help scholars
- I work with individual scholars through a unique and effective manuscript development service honed through years of editing for and consulting with scholars across disciplines. Learn about services here.
- I work with institutions to provide programming that supports the scholarly and professional development of their faculty, postdocs, doctoral students, and other researchers. Learn about programs here.
- I’m developing a book that any scholar can use to craft a personal guidance system for navigating the deep work of research-based argument construction, thereby removing some of the guesswork and decision fatigue from this process. Subscribe to the monthly newsletter for updates and excerpts.