This page includes
- My philosophy of academic writing
- My braggy bio
- A vignette about one of my tattoos
- How I can help you
My philosophy of academic writing
I believe academic research serves a crucial social, cultural, and political function, and that therefore the academic writing to communicate that research serves a crucial function as well. The research and writing that academics do has urgent consequences for every aspect of human life and beyond. But because it is so difficult to write well – and because all kinds of external and internal forces are conspiring against it – I believe that academic writers need to consciously set the goal of presenting their research in compelling form, and then get serious about cultivating the skills to do so.
My definition of powerful academic writing is what I call the Story-Argument: an artfully 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.
And it is really, really hard to create, which is why I’m devoting my life to helping you do it.
So where did I get my ideas about academic writing? Only from everything I've ever read and done in my entire life. The most directly pertinent sources, though, are my academic research on literary genres, my years of teaching research and rhetoric to first-year undergraduates, and most of all, my years of working closely as a consultant/editor to scholars across disciplines as they have developed books, articles, proposals, and other academic manuscripts.
Here are a few of the books and blogs that have most informed my understanding of academic writing.
- Stylish Academic Writing and Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (Helen Sword)
- The Professor Is In (book) and Blog (Karen Kelsky)
- The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber)
- Write No Matter What (Joli Jensen)
- Becoming an Academic Writer (Patricia Goodson)
- Academic Writing for Graduate Students (John Swales and Christine Feak)
- Writing With Power (Peter Elbow)
- The Science of Scientific Writing (George Gopen)
- Explorations of Style (Blog by Rachael Cayley)
- Patter (Blog by Pam Thomsen)
- Tricks of the Trade: How to Think About Your Research While You're Doing It (Howard Becker)
- Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing (Robert Boice)
- Columns by Rachel Toor and Joli Jensen, among others
From farther-flung realms, my ideas about academic writing are also shaped by the following:
- Captivating investigative journalism
- Beautiful artwork and patterns
- Math that makes intuitive sense
- Conversations with fascinating strangers
- Novels in general, but especially the work of Herman Melville
- Tarot (don’t judge; I’ll explain later)
- English major stuff like narrative theory and genre theory
All these disparate sources are currently marinating into a book I’m writing, where I distill years of study and practice into a self-help resource that any scholar can use to navigate the deep work of research-based argument construction.
My braggy bio
Since founding ScholarShape in 2013, I have worked with hundreds of scholars around the world and had the deep pleasure of seeing their many beautifully crafted books and articles go to print. I’m talking fancy university presses and journals like the ones people would normally name drop in a bio like this. Meanwhile, I have also served as North Carolina State University Graduate School's Dissertation Institute Writing Consultant since 2014, and as of 2018, I also co-teach a doctoral writing course in the NC State College of Engineering. My Ph.D. (Baylor, 2012) is in English Language and Literature, and I wrote my dissertation on Herman Melville's use of genre. My dissertation topic explains both (a) my obsessive interest in how academic writing is constrained and generated by genre, and (b) the sperm whale tattoo on my left inner bicep. While at Baylor, I taught academic writing and research for four years, and then served as the university's first Graduate Writing Consultant. In that role, I developed training materials for future consultants, an experience that planted early seeds of ScholarShape. Other things that happened while I was at Baylor were that I was a Presidential Doctoral Scholar, was named one of the university’s 2011 Outstanding Professors of the Year, and published peer-reviewed articles on American literature. Upon graduation, I hastily discarded the idea of pursing a traditional academic job in favor of launching ScholarShape because I really can’t resist going opposite.
For more on the academic-turned-entrepreneur angle, you can check out my blog posts for The Professor Is In, where I offer tips and strategies for academics who want to create their own jobs. Or you can check out this presentation I gave at Duke in 2014 while recovering from abdominal surgery because NBD. Also here’s a blog post where I tell you how to develop your own consulting service. Entrepreneurship has become a deep fascination of mine as I discover ever more parallels between academic and entrepreneurial work. In my local community of Durham, North Carolina, I serve on the Leadership Board of WE Collective, where I get to collaborate with women entrepreneurs whose businesses range from coffee shops to law firms to design studios. One of my most cherished long-term visions is to build bridges between the academic and entrepreneurial worlds so that everyone can learn from each other and be best friends forever.
A vignette about one of my tattoos
Just to prove my devotion to the subject of academic writing, here is a picture of the sperm whale silhouette that I had tattooed on my left inner bicep in 2016. Having spent 32 years vowing I would never commit to permanent body art, I was seized by the sudden need to imprint the image of the white whale on my body because it became to me a perfect representation of what scholarly writing, as conflated with life itself, is all about. The outline of the whale represents the elusive, evolving working thesis that guides any large writing project. In Moby-Dick, the shape of the white whale focalizes the Pequod crew’s efforts as they zigzag wildly around the globe, and it also focalizes Ishmael’s narrative as he retrospectively works to construct the meaning of that doomed voyage. So too, the scholar at work is guided by a fixed yet emergent point of reference, one that reminds you always of the possibility of making meaning in an unfathomable universe. So that’s just a little more evidence for you of the depth of my devotion to the scholarly enterprise.
How can I help you?
- Individual scholars: Customized manuscript development support services
- Institutions: Programming to support scholarly and professional development
- DIYers: Free resources