Terra (In)cognita: Mapping Academic Writing

First draft of a new paper on academic writing . . .

Students and teachers alike bemoan the sorry state of academic writing, as both readers and writers. Nonetheless, they are loath to venture beyond what they take to be the well-known territory of the academic — read: expository — essay for fear of erring, or unsettling their readers. Here I aim to map the academic essay as it is practised for the most part . . . but also as it might be practised. That is to say, the essay is not as monolithic a form as it has often been taken to be, but it also offers a greater range of possibilities than have commonly been taken up.

Broadly speaking, there are two main spatial models of the essay, namely, the essay as round trip and as one-way journey: the point-first (PF) and the point-last (PL) essay respectively.

The first model is the more common in — and seemingly native to — the academy, in that it is an epistemic (knowledge-displaying) and thus expository writing technology. But it is less open, as it stakes its claim at the outset and then sets out to prove it. The second is less common — but truer to the origin of the essay, in that it is a heuristic (knowledge-discovering) and thus exploratory writing technology. [Read more . . .]

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