‘Technique’ and Academic Writing

Practitioners of the fine and performing arts are well acquainted with the notion of ‘technique’. One hears ‘technique’ spoken of regularly by commentators, adjudicators, and reviewers of the arts, who use term to characterise the success or failure of an artistic undertaking. The study of technique forms the core of advanced training in many disciplines, including dance, acting, music, voice, visual art, and design. For dancers, ‘technique’ entails an understanding of the lines a body casts in space, and an ability to manipulate and control these lines as required for various dance
styles. The ‘technique’ of singers involves the development and control of sound-producing resonators, and the ability to produce the desired sounds with as little strain and stress on the body as possible.

And in some instances, the technique has been extensively documented and codified. Most professional actors today have been trained in at least a derivative form of the technique promoted by Constantin Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg, and, even more exhaustive than that, Bharata Natyam—the national dance of India—has a wide vocabulary of specific expressive hand gestures that each dancer must learn and perfect. These gestures form one component of the ‘technique’ of Bharata Natyam, and serve not only as an elemental part of the dancer’s training, but also as a clear benchmark of the dancer’s successful or incomplete treatment of the style.  ‘Technique’ is the specialist code followed by practitioners in a particular discipline. ‘Technique’ comprises the rules that first must be learned fully before they can be bent, shaped, and reworked in order to produce the desired effect.

But rarely does one hear of the ‘technique’ of academic writing, and this is probably a great shame. Like the examples above, academic writing is an art form that is dependent on both exhaustive advanced training and on the creative capacity of the practitioner. Academic writing might not appear on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall or hang in the National Gallery, but it is just as much an art form as anything that does. One of the problems with speaking of ‘technique’ as both a
training tool and a benchmark of quality is that it is generally filed away in that profoundly vague category of ‘I know it when I see it’. It can be difficult for even the most well trained practitioners of an art to define what they mean by technique, even if they can instantaneously spot the presence or lack of technique in a piece of work.

Academic writing is a specialised form of communication. And to a great extent the success of this communication is dependent each writer’s display of technical mastery. This does not, of course,
mean mindlessly following the models of writing.  What it does mean, though, is that each advanced writer should have an understanding of the objectives of this type of organizational and argumentative structure, and be able to create these effects in his or her writing regardless of the particular form the writing takes.

So, what are these objectives? What, that is, are the goals of utilising good technique?  Over the coming weeks, this blog will be exploring this questions, and coming to some conclusions are should be as provocative as they are practical.

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3 thoughts on “‘Technique’ and Academic Writing

  1. Oh goodie… your timing is perfect for me Allan. I’ve just been asked to write up some essays synthesing the emerging themes from my reading of the literature for my (newly commenced) PhD. So I’m scouting around for advice on good technique and will look forward to your upcoming posts! Thanks, Sherridan

  2. Perfect timing indeed! I hope that you find the upcoming posts useful. A lot of the content will be based on materials I developed for a postgradudate research methods course at the University of Leeds a number of years ago–I am updating and revising, and thought it would be worthwhile to share.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the upcoming posts!

  3. Pingback: Refining Technique in Academic Writing | Allan Johnson

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