Authority + academic writing

by K.M.

Something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about recently is the process of developing one’s authority/voice in academic writing. I’m at the point of the PhD journey where I’ve done the research and have a good idea of how my analysis will take shape, but am very much still trying to tie everything together — develop an overarching narrative.

For the upcoming PSA conference, I’m presenting a paper on some of those preliminary conclusions. My ideas are very much still in progress, and I found it difficult while writing the paper to speak ‘authoritatively’ — to go from “findings suggest” to “findings show.” It’s the presentation of a strong, distinct argument based on my own work that is — at this stage — is leaving me feeling cautious.

It reminded me of this line from a recent book review published at the Thesis Whisperer:

Researchers feel that they need confidence in order to feel ready to publish, but in order to develop confidence they need to experience having their work published, and herein lies the conceptual trap: scholarly writers need that confidence, which they internalise and claim they do not have, in order to get their work published in the first place.

Developing confidence in your work, sharing it, and arguing for it are all skills, ones that are developed throughout the course of the doctorate — and way beyond. While I never have expected to have “all of the answers” (I know I don’t!), it can be intimidating knowing how to articulate the knowledge you’ve accumulated while not sounding like an imposter. There is also a delicate and difficult gap of being somewhere in between a student and a “real” researcher. But what I am realizing more and more is figuring this stuff out, and struggling with it, is the PhD. It’s a central part of this process. And confidence and authority are developed piecemeal, over time, and only by practicing.