Academic writing: A story for everyone

Fear of the blank page can cripple a writer, and when a successful academic career hinges on research and publication, professors can become paralyzed by writers’ block. Hazel Rogers Professor of Media Studies Joli Jensen offers a variety of ways to help faculty members at The University of Tulsa overcome whatever prevents them from writing. As the director of the Henneke Faculty Writing Program, Jensen focuses on two main issues: barriers to academic writing and learning how to write for a more general audience.

Joli JensenIn her new book, Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics, just published by University of Chicago Press, Jensen details how to improve writing productivity and momentum. “I recognized the need for faculty writing support because I had colleagues who claimed they were writing books, but when it came to evaluation, tenure and promotion, they had not,” Jensen explained.

The academic world can be isolating. From procrastination to severe perfectionism, Jensen describes the fear-based demons that arise, as well as the shame and mystery that surrounds academic writing.” She warns against binge writing and instead recommends brief, frequent writing sessions on an enjoyable project. “From kindergarten on, unfortunately, we have long, intermittent, high stress and low-reward encounters with projects we come to dread,” Jensen said. There is a better alternative.

Jensen created a program at TU that promotes colleague-to-colleague writing motivation. With workshops and one-on-one consultations, she talks through writing perils with her colleagues; and ongoing faculty writing groups keep everyone accountable. “One of the nicest things about how the writing groups work is when a colleague says ‘me too;’” those two simple words mean you are not alone, she said. Together, the faculty invest and celebrate in each other’s scholarly writing progress.

Jensen takes scholarly publication a step further with the notion that academic writing can also be made accessible to a larger audience. In addition to the faculty writing program, Jensen is introducing the Public Scholars Initiative in Fall 2017. The goal is to “help scholars learn to write in a way that will be widely understood, and to find venues in which to publish.”

There is a massive amount of information confined to the hallowed halls of academia. Jensen believes there are not only new publications eager to publish scholarly research findings, but there is also a need for public access to academic evidence. “In this political climate, scholars must learn to speak for themselves about their research rather than relying on journalists, who aren’t experts, to translate it,” Jensen said.

TU professors commit to one semester in the Public Scholars Initiative, and they attend a series of workshops with the goal of publication by the end of the semester. They will learn that the “three main elements of good nonfiction are evidence, argument and anecdote,” Jensen said.  These tips make academic writing more engaging and accessible to a wider audience.

Academic writing is not merely for promotion and tenure, or for other professors to read. There is power in knowledge, facts and research, and it is Jensen’s mission “to get as many faculty at TU as possible writing their own content and placing it wherever they want,” she said. “TU faculty can make a difference in the world.”

Learn more about Joli Jensen and her new book, Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics here.