Academic Discourse – A fancy term for scholarly jargon

It’s honesty hour on the blog tonight… We’ve all been in formal education for quite some time now. For many the journey will continue onto graduate school and for many the journey will end upon receiving your diplomas. Regardless of the future paths we may walk on, a commonality we all share is something I like to call “scholarly jargon,” aka Academic Discourse by Theresa Thonney. We’ve all been indoctrinated into the usage of scholarly jargon since our high school days. Writing essay responses to articles, novels, and respected scholars. Academic discourse is the foundation to our success as amateur writers at the collegiate level. It’s simple: follow this structure, answer the prompt, don’t be too opinionated, meet the minimum length & word count requirement, submit it on time and you will be rewarded with a decent grade.

I see it as an endless cycle of regurgitation. Where did we lose our creativity? Our authenticity? What about our opinions? Don’t they matter? Shouldn’t they matter?

As Theresa Thonney explores in her article “Teaching the Conventions of Academic Discourse,” we can provide students with a tool-kit of writing styles or “genres.” An important piece of advice in the article was “joining in on the conversation… many students fail to contribute to the conversation.” Now this is what I’m struggling with.

As an undergrad I took an exercise physiology lab the spring semester of my junior year. This lab gave us the basic overview/intro into writing research manuscripts. On a weekly basis we had to draft mini-manuscripts based on that week’s lab exercise. The structure was set in stone and our choice of words became essential. Our success on the report depended on concisely introducing the lab, stating materials and methods, providing results, discussing the results in the context of exercise physiology research and arriving at a conclusion based on our findings. This lab was a real challenge, if you’re catching my drift thus far. Up till that point I was used to the cookie-cutter 5-paragraph essays where professors encouraged us to fill up a plethora of pages with our evaluations of literary works. *Blah… blah… blah…*

Where do I even begin? I didn’t have the experience, nor the tool-kit to get started on these reports. Somehow after many visits to my TA’s office hours and reading scholarly journals I started to pick-up on this new genre of writing. Now, when I browse through my documents and re-read my initial lab report I chuckle. I sounded like a prisoner captivated within the confines of my own words. The writing felt dogmatic and almost script-like, but it was a learning experience.

From that day forward, I adapted my writing skills to tailor the needs of my new genre. I made it a priority to read more scholarly publications, in hopes of improving the conventions of my own writing. Thonney mentions in her article: “another way writers create an ethos of authority is by using a high percentage of meaning-carrying words.” (p.354) A skill worth practicing. Words are like money, you have to budget which ones to use accordingly in a strategical fashion, otherwise all you’re left with is a depleted word bank. And we very well know that playing scrabble with useless letters is not only frustrating but hinders our success in the game.

“Words are free. It’s how you use them, that may cost you.”