Useful texts on reading and writing

There is a huge array of literature on both reading and writing. Rather than provide pages of references, here are some texts that I’ve found helpful.

Writing literature reviews

Boote, D. N., & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15.

Wallace, M., & Wray, A. (2011). Critical reading and writing for postgraduates (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

Both of these texts deal with the literature review section of graduate research reports. The first article argues that in order to locate and outline a significant topic for research, a substantive and thorough review of the literature is a pre-requisite. A key issue discussed is how scholars must situate their work within a particular community of practice. Authors need to know how a study relates to other work that has been done in a field. Wallace and Wray’s book provides a very structured approach to reading in order to write a literature review. I’m doubtful that it is possible to do this kind of exhaustive literature review for every study. Yet, this book is helpful because it encourages me to read with purpose, asking particular questions of the literature to inform my work.

Several books and a chapter about writing

Becker, H. S. (1986). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. Chicago: The University of Chicago.

Although this book is now 30 years old, it is still helpful. Becker writes in an accessible style and provides sound advice for any researcher.

Goldberg, N. (1986). Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within. Boston & London: Shambhala.

Natalie Goldberg is a novelist of the free-write persuasion. Readers either love or hate this style of writing. It might just help you to start writing though!

Goodall, H. L. (2008). Writing qualitative inquiry: Self, stories, and academic life. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Goodall, H. L. (2000). Writing the new ethnography. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.

“Bud” Goodall (1952-2012) is a communications scholar who worked at the forefront of the “new ethnography” movement. As mentioned in another blogpost on QualPage, he has also written an autoethnography on growing up in a family full of secrets. Goodall was also a proponent of academic blogging.

LeGuin, U. K. (1998). Steering the craft: Exercises and discussions on story writing for the lone navigator or the mutinous crew. Portland OR: The Eighth Mountain Press.

I had read Ursula LeGuin’s novels for children and adults long before I read LeGuin’s book on writing. This short book includes recommendations for how to structure writing groups. If this book is not for you, look to see if any of your favorite authors have written about writing.

Richardson, L., & St. Pierre, E. A. (2005). Writing: A method of inquiry. In N. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 507-535). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

This chapter introduces a host of ideas to inspire writing and think about how we can write more interesting work to engage academic audiences.

Van Maanen, J. (2011). Tales of the field: On writing ethnography (2nd ed.). Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

This is a classic text on writing first published in 1988 by John Van Maanen, who conducted a study of police work. Van Maanen provides multiple accounts representing findings from his ethnographic fieldwork that he calls “realist”, “confessional” and “impressionist.” These are just a few of the many ways to represent our findings. Van Maanen’s examples clearly demonstrate different stylistic approaches.

Advice on writing for academics

Boice, R. (1990). Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive writing. Stillwater, OK: New Forums.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil Nimus. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Researchers are consistently evaluated on both the quality and quantity of their work. Since every submission to a peer-reviewed journal risks rejection, and every year involves some form of evaluation of productivity, it is not surprising that sometimes academic writers experience challenges. As an outcome of his research on faculty writing, Robert Boice has written a guide for new faculty on how to manage writing as one of the responsibilities of taking on a new position (he suggests taking the approach of “Nihil Nimus” or “nothing in excess”). He has also written a self-help guide for faculty to assess their writing challenges. This book also provides lots of strategies to write more and enjoy the process.

Advice on writing

Kamler, B., & Thomson, P. (2008). The failure of dissertation advice books: Toward alternative pedagogies for doctoral writing. Educational Researcher, 37(8), 507-514.

Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson have both researched and written about writing. This article provides a strong critique of advice literature on doctoral writing. Kamler and Thomson have written several other advice book as well, including:

Kamler, B., & Thomson, P. (2014). Helping doctoral students write: Pedagogies of supervision. (2nd ed.). London & New York: Routledge.

The lesson of the inclusion of these last two references in this list is to be skeptical of texts that provide advice! You might also begin your own reference list of favorite texts reading and writing. Add your suggestions in the comments below.


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