Creative Academic and Scientific Writing for Modern Readers
Carl Jung claimed that ‘the creative mind plays with the objects it loves,’ a thought that seems highly applicable to the intellectual work of modern academics and scientists. Many scholars may not immediately connect the ideas of creativity and play to their research and writing, but there is a current trend to make scholarly writing more creative and engaging, more accessible to general readers as well as specialists and more like fiction in telling a story – the story of sophisticated research, its procedures and its results. Such a trend might be seen as an opportunity for scholarly authors to move beyond the conventions of their fields and the limits of their normal perspectives, to develop new ideas and innovative methods, and ultimately to share and advance knowledge in unusual, unexpected and illuminating ways.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin fostering a more creative style of writing and research is to let your ideas flow. When you formulate or find an idea that is new to you, jot it down before it flees from memory, and do this even (maybe especially) if the idea seems particularly odd, somewhat weird or even downright bizarre. Then keep that idea in your thoughts as you pursue your research, writing down any new developments as they occur. You may never use many of these ideas, but occasionally one will pay off and find its place in your research by helping you formulate unique questions and answer them in groundbreaking ways. New ideas that undermine established theories and concepts may not be welcomed by all scholars, but as a well-informed expert in your field who is familiar with its standards and conventions, you are unlikely to go so far out on an intellectual limb that you find it breaking beneath you. Bending the branch, on the other hand, can be a very positive thing.
Another approach for enhancing your creativity is to seek out new ideas and apply them to your research and writing. Ideas can be found anywhere and some of the most intriguing and inspiring are discovered in the least likely places. Popular magazines can provide kernels of thought as interesting as those in scholarly journals, and social media as well as academic blogs and web sites can take you on intellectual adventures you had not imagined. Ideas new in your field might be well established in other scholarly fields, so reading beyond your own area of expertise can be a rich source of new concepts. Taking an idea from one discipline and applying it in another can allow you to approach your work from an entirely new perspective, and you may even expand your horizons far enough to make your research truly interdisciplinary.
Whether you are reading in your own subject area or exploring far afield, always be alert to mismatches, anomalies and paradoxes even if they are accepted within a discipline. Ask yourself why they exist. Should they be accepted? What phenomenon or problem do they highlight? Consider how you might delve more deeply into the matter or perhaps view any similar gaps in your own research area under a new and more revealing light. Fascinating ideas and approaches can result from such thinking, ultimately taking your work in directions that may well surprise and delight you.
When it comes time to write up your research, try to shape the information you plan to communicate as a narrative. This does not mean that you should share the details of every stage of your work from the first inkling in your mind to the last paragraph of your article. What you should do is aim to tell a story about the procedures and results of your research, focussing on the aspects of your work that you believe your anticipated audience will find most compelling. Starting an article with an engaging anecdote or exciting event, perhaps some extraordinary or unusual occurrence that was part of your research experience or process, can be an excellent strategy for catching the attention of readers and inspiring them to read on in order to discover where your story will take them.
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