I am delighted to say that creative academic writing is gaining in popularity and acceptance, at least in some parts of the world. I have been teaching creative thesis writing and creative academic writing at universities around the world since 2015, and I know many postgraduate students and early career researchers are keen to learn and to apply their learning. I know they also, sometimes, meet resistance from their supervisors or managers. The best way to overcome this resistance is to formulate an academic argument based on academic resources. I am happy to say there are now a range of resources people can cite as they outline the rationale for writing creatively in academia.
The main reason for writing creatively is that it makes your writing more interesting and memorable for your readers. I’m sure most of us want other people to be interested in our work and remember the points we make. However, the thought of writing creatively can be daunting for those of us who have learned to report as factually as possible. The good news is we don’t have to use creativity at a macro level, such as by producing graphic novels, epic poems or full-length screenplays – though for those of us with the talent and dedication, macro creativity is certainly an option. But we can all use micro creativity: sensory language, imagery, metaphor and so on. And if we’re not sure how, these resources will help.
The first is a book edited by Pamela Burnard, Elizabeth Mackinlay, David Rousell and Tatjana Dragovic: Doing Rebellious Research In and Beyond the Academy, and in particular, Part 2, which focuses on ‘rebellious writings’. I am not highlighting this book because Pam has kindly agreed to give the first keynote at the International Conference on Creative Research Methods next year. I am highlighting it because it is a wonderful, transgressive, boundary-bulldozing book. It was published in 2022 and uses colour and theory, poems and images, concepts and diagrams, prose and music, and a bunch of other devices to get its points across. This book is a real tour de force and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The next book is edited by Cecile Badenhorst, Brittany Amell and James Burford: Re-imagining Doctoral Writing. This one was published in 2021 and is also available as an open access ebook. While it is evidently aimed at doctoral students, I think it could be useful to any academic writer wanting to work more creatively. I found it interesting, informative and thought-provoking, and I have been doing academic writing at postgraduate level and beyond since 1999.
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In 2022 a book was published focusing on creative academic writing in a single discipline. When that happens, you know an approach is taking hold. Edited by Francesca Cavallerio, it is Creative Nonfiction in Sport and Exercise Research. There is no paperback at present, only a very expensive hardback or a quite expensive ebook, so it is best to use if you have access to an academic library. Again, I think it would be helpful for people in any discipline wanting to write more creatively.
So far, these are all edited collections. In 2021 a book was published written by Richard Phillips and, er, me, called Creative Writing for Social Research: A Practical Guide. We included 14 creative contributions from 17 researcher-writers to show how this can work in practice. I’m pleased to say we’ve had excellent feedback on the book so far. It even generated an online book club in the year of its publication.
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There are a couple of potentially useful open access journals, too, each founded in 2020. Both are aimed at the humanities, but again people working in other sectors may well find articles that are of use to them. One is from the Rochester Institute of Technology in the US, and it is the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. The other is from the UK National Association of Writers in Education (aka NAWE), and it is the Journal of Creative Writing Research.
I am quite sure this is not an exhaustive list, though I hope it will be a useful one. If you have other resources to add, please share them in the comments.
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Really useful list of resources – thank you!
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You’re welcome, Pauline. Glad it’s helpful, and thanks for letting me know.
I am having difficulty understanding what “Creative Academic Writing” is. As an academic, you write for other academics in your own discipline, not for the public. The writing style is particular to the discipline. In computing and engineering your writing has to be dull and dry, or it will be rejected by your peers.
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Hi Tom, if you would like to understand what ‘creative academic writing’ is, any of the books or journals listed in the post will help to clarify that and show how widespread it is across disciplines. There is a body of literature recommending creative approaches to academic writing in most disciplines including engineering for sure (e.g. Ahearn, A. (2006) Engineering Writing: Replacing ‘Writing Classes’ With A ‘Writing Imperative’, in Ganobcsik-Williams L (ed) Teaching Academic Writing in UK Higher Education: Theories, Practices and Models pp 110-123. Palgrave Macmillan) and I believe also computing though I don’t have a reference to hand. Academics often do write for the public, as well as for their peers; I subscribe to ‘New Scientist’ magazine and it’s full of exactly that. Science communication is a growing business and requires a lot of creativity. There are other books I didn’t mention, e.g. ‘The Shape of Content: Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science’. I teach this subject at universities around the world and I get graduate students and early career researchers in my classes from all disciplines.
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I am also a fan of New Scientist, with a couple of letters published: “Off is Off” (9 May 2012), and “Let Detroit dribble” (13 August 2014). Also I read IEEE Spectrum magazine. However, these are produced by specialist science journalists, not academics. ANU has a school for training specialist science communicators: the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). But an academic who is not in that field, and spends their time writing for the public, will be at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs, as they will not have as many research publications as their rivals, and will be seen as not serious about their work.
I write a blog about higher education, but receive no credit for this at my university, and occasional criticism from colleagues, for not plugging their work. The blog is seen as a frivolous waste of time, which should be devoted to teaching or research, which will not get me anywhere. They are probably right.