For the first time in my life, I find myself realizing that academic papers can have different voices, just like stories.

Maybe this was obvious to some of you. But while I knew I wrote papers differently for conferences (where I read out loud) than I do for classes or publication (where they’ll be printed on a page), I tended to think of those as two faint variants on Academic Voice.

That stories have different voices has always been obvious to me. I can’t tell you what “my” voice is, because “Calling into Silence” has a deliberately earthy, grounded tone to it, while “Nine Sketches, in Charcoal and Blood” is more high-flown Victorian and “The Snow-White Heart” is a pale lavender imitation of Lovecraft’s purple prose. And I’d need an outside eye to tell me what, if anything, is “my” voice in all of that, the common thread in the prose that links them together.

But here I am, plugging away at an article for kleenestar, and the silly thing has found a voice. I wasn’t making much progress on it yesterday or earlier today, but then tonight I hit upon the thought of structuring it loosely around the experience of “our hypothetical newcomer,” a stranger to RPGs who is getting into one for the first time. From the moment I put that phrase down, something changed. This article is just the slightest bit tongue-in cheek. I’m addressing my subject soberly enough, but hardly a paragraph goes by without some little thing to liven it up: a faintly snarky comment about the “What is a role-playing game?” section in rulebooks, a passing jab at GURPs and its rules for digging holes. Yesterday and earlier today, this paper had no voice, and I was getting nowhere with it. Now I’ve found the voice, and I have over three thousand words down, from about 800 two hours ago. I keep telling myself I’m going to bed, and then coming back to put the next bit down.

It’s just like a story. I can’t really progress on it until I’ve found the plot/organization and the voice. Once I do? Zoom.

We’ll see what kleenestar thinks of the result. If I have to, I can go back and make it more straight-laced. But right now, I’m going to run with what I have.

0 Responses to “huh.”

  1. gollumgollum

    ZOMG someone’s awake at the same time as i am!1

    This random bit of drive-by off-subject ridiculousness brought to you by a long, strange night at work.

  2. unforth

    Huh, I’ve never thought of it as “voice” before, though I’ve experienced this problem – I always thought of it as an angle. Until I figured out what angle to use, I’d struggle and struggle, but once I knew my angle, I could pound out the paper in a snap (or relatively, any way. 😉 ). Sounds pretty similar.

    As to your voice, I’d love to give an assessment, but so far I’ve only read the novels, so I’m not equipped to do so. 😉 If you want a take on it, though, I’d happily go and read some of your short stories and take a stab at it. 😉

    Anyway, this paper sounds interesting! Might you be convinced to share it when it’s done?

    • Marie Brennan

      Angle too; that, for me, tends to be the “plot” of the paper, the organizing principle I’m using to come at and get through my topic. The voice is more the style I’m using along the way.

      As for sharing the paper, it’s going into an online journal, but I have no idea what the access setup is for said journal.

  3. wadam

    I’ve spent a lot of time since coming to graduate school thinking about voice in academic writing. I think that part of it is that what I really want is to be a good writer first, and then also a good academic. But what I’ve found is that I write in a couple of pretty distinct voices, and I can’t get going on whatever it is I’m writing until I figure out which one is appropriate for the subject, and until I work into that voice. I’ve probably commented to you before that my revising process consists of writing near-complete drafts, throwing them out, and starting again blind. This, at least in part, is why.

    • Marie Brennan

      I definitely want to be a good writer regardless of what I’m putting down. Good writing is good communication; your ideas aren’t much use if people can’t get at them.

      Now if only we can convince more of academia to feel that way . . . .

  4. moonandserpent

    You’re absolutely correct.

    What’s bad is when you can’t get the voice and the topic to line up. Like the one I did about “Alternate Treatment Paradigms for Histoplasmosis” which ended up having a… well… jaunty, chipper voice. It cracked my professor up, but still wasn’t quite appropriate.

    Anyway, speaking of articles, need to get back to the grindstone.

  5. kleenestar

    I’m pretty bloody excited to read it, is what I am. 🙂

  6. raisinfish

    I had this realization about a month ago when I was reading a year’s worth of Rhetoric Review for a presentation. Some of the articles breezed by, and others were hell to get through. About halfway through I realized that the issue wasn’t the information–it was the voice! Some of the authors had entertaining voices that strove for clarity and variety, and those papers were easier to read, no matter how dense the information. Others stuck to a highly formal voice, which made them much harder to get through.

    This is why good writing matter, even for academics in unrelated fields. (Not that rhetoric is an unrelated field, per se.)

    • Marie Brennan

      See, I think it goes beyond just good writing. As in, I can produce several well-written papers that will all sound different, just as I can do with stories. It’s possible to be highly formal and yet readable, just like certain kinds of literature — though admittedly learning to read things in such a voice may be an acquired skill.

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