Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
For over three decades now, I’ve written academic articles. For over three months now, I’ve written blog posts. Guess which one I find easier and which one I struggle with? But it’s not because writing a blog is harder. It’s because I’ve been writing academic articles for three decades.
Part of my struggle with writing this blog has come from learning to do something new. That’s always a challenge, though a good challenge. I struggled when I learned how to use online resources in my teaching. I struggled learning how to use twitter (okay, so I’m still figuring that one out a bit). I struggled when I tried to learn to sing (in front of people). I trust you’ve had your own struggles with learning new stuff. It’s hard.
But learning to write a blog has been a struggle not just with the unfamiliar but with the familiar. I’m all too familiar with writing scholarly academic articles, and that has been getting in the way of my writing blog posts for a broader audience.
Take a look at some of the big differences I’m adjusting to. (Already I can see that this post is going to demonstrate what I’m talking about—I’m struggling to keep it from being too academic-y.) So, some realities of blog-writing:
The good side of the last point is that I can mess up one week and get to try again the next week. Some of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while (thank you, thank you, thank you!) have seen the messes as well as a few successes.
My very first blog post, on the Psychology of Genre, summarized an article from the New York Times by Tom Vanderbilt about cognitive research on categories. I found it fascinating! But my blog post used terms like “rhetorical genre scholars” as if readers knew who that was. And it included sentences like these:
“It offers psychological backing for many claims of rhetorical genre studies: that we put symbolic acts into generic categories, that those genres are social as well as cognitive and shape us even as we shape them, but that genres are not fixed and we can change them. But beware, especially with our students, of the habits of mind that genres can instill and make difficult to disrupt.”
Phew. And I began that paragraph with, “You can see why I was so excited reading this article.” Yeah, maybe not.
I was learning, and that first post showed I still needed to learn a few things to shift me away from my academic article habits:
So far, my most successful posts have been the series of three I wrote on apologies: good ones, bad ones, and impossible ones. It got comments, on the blog and on social media. Some people shared it. And some kind souls told me how much they liked it. So sometimes I’m able to leave my habits from writing academic articles behind and give the blog post what it needs.
This particular post? Not so much. It’s too long (I’m shooting for 750 words; this one is over 1100 so far.) Those bullet points are too long, and there are too many of them. Where are the illustrations? And why should you want to read it? What’s in it for you?
I'd intended to comment on more individual posts, but I've run out of space. And I'd hoped to share more links to others' tips on writing good blogs, but there are so many of them, especially commercial ones. One good column I found on academic blogging that applied to non-academic, too, was "So You Want to Blog (Academic Edition)" from Liana Silva on the University of Venus blog, from Inside Higher Ed.
I had two reasons for starting this blog. I wanted to reach a broader audience because I think seeing genre and language and rhetoric can improve lives. Being able to see means being able to change or make a difference. I can apologize better once I see how it works, and that can help me with relationships that matter to me.
And I wanted to write more often in non-academic ways, for fun. I like to write. And I was losing my flexibility by writing all academic all the time. This post was hard for me but fun—reflecting back on what I’m learning and how it’s going.
I’ve been having a great time writing this blog, whether or not anyone reads it. But if you’re seeing this, you’re reading it. And that makes it even better.