I’m interested in the perceived difficulties in becoming original as you put it. A few misconceptions are flying around, and I’d like to get my head around them a bit.
It is difficult for doctoral practitioners not to be original if they have a sensitive appreciation of their environment and an understanding of the implied generalisms in the wider literature. The action of applying another’s theory to one’s own practice is an original idea. This ‘simple’ action, however, can uncover areas where the base theory needs to be adjusted, altered, or discarded. Lee (2008) suggests that originality ” could involve the application of existing knowledge or expertise in a new professional practice setting, or the adaptation of existing knowledge to develop new models or frameworks of practice” p. 34. Cryer (2009) concurs: “procedures, tools and techniques … may be fairly standard in the field of study, but if she [the student] uses them in new and untested ways, this would justify a claim for originality” (p. 193). Being original is hardly a high barrier for us.
The more pressing problem as I see it is twofold: to demonstrate criticality and to be interesting. The first point is the topic of next week’s discussion assignment. The second is far more problematic and it directly affects the discussion between Habib and Sura.
Cryer devotes four pages to a discussion on originality and conformity (p. 198-201, ultimately commenting that being too original is probably detrimental to a PhD thesis (Cryer, 2006). Unfortunately, she does not discuss originality in terms of writing style. Her advice about that seems limited to, “Check on the written style of academic writing in your subject area” (p. 173). This advice is safe and again the budding stylish writer is held back in the quest to produce more readable documents, ala Sword (2008a; 2008b; 2009).
Adept writing does not, of course, equate with original thinking. And it is equally possible to write horribly or beautifully inside a highly structured article format. Original writing and original thinking, if combined and unless very well done, will result academic papers that probably annoy some readers. (There’s a continuum in there for someone to develop … . )
fya, if sum1 sed why dont we rit wurds lik this, ud prolly h8 it, k?
One major reason the above sentence fails is that expert readers take in whole chunks of text at a time (Duchowski, 2007). The silly sentence annoys proficient readers because we are forced to subvocalise and encode each element individually. This process is exponentially longer than normal reading. Let’s extend this to a metaphor to the academic article level. The conventions of standard articles allow proficient readers to read in particular ways that allow them to speed up their access to information. This point is key. Being original in article format is frustrating to busy professionals who may have no intention of reading a paper from beginning to end. They may skim the abstract, jump to the methodology to see if the paper is reliable, then skip to the conclusion. In this way, a paper can be ‘understood’ in a few minutes. Or they may (as we will all do very soon, I presume) jump straight in to the literature review to see if they are up to date on the latest information in a field. Or they may simply check the references to see if they are mentioned. Or, or, or … . The many ways of reading are only possible if standard formats are maintained.
The mandate to be interesting is in itself interesting. But that’s a matter for another post.
Cryer, P. (2006). Research student’s guide to success. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Duchowski, A. (2007). Eye tracking methodology. London: Springer-Verlag.
Lee, N. J. (2008). Achieving your professional doctorate. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Sword, H. (2008a). Ask the professor about . . . academic style. Retrieved from http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/viewFile/178/181
Sword, H. (2008b). Ask the professor about . . . shaping up your sentences. Retrieved from http://ojs.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/TK/article/viewFile/156/154
Sword, H. (2009). Writing higher education differently: a manifesto on style. Studies in Higher Education, 34(3), 319-336.