A Note on Essay Writing Dispositions and Some Links to Writing Tips

Here are some links to essential tips for piecing together an essay. Some years back I tutored undergraduates in political ecology. I was blown away by the structuring of many of the assignments that I corrected. The standard was truly shocking and from conversations with my colleagues I learned that this was not limited to my tutorials. They too had some horror stories to relate. The worst has to be the use of an url address as a citation in mid paragraph. Scarier still, the address was for search results from ask.com. I get the strong impression that students were not taking the assignments seriously due to the small  proportion allotted them from the overall course results. Still the assignments surely reflect some of the bad writing habits of the students.

However, I don’t recall receiving much guidance on essay writing in my primary and post-primary years. On approaching the final post-primary exam I have a vague recollection of being told to write down as much relevant points as possible and to support them with references to the main texts. I even remember an English teacher praising my long-winded sentences: a lingering habit which continues to torment my supervisor. This absence continued through third level. It was only during my PhD candidacy that I took classes on academic writing and joined a writing club. However I suspect the intervention as being too late to keep me from buckling the contours of my prose.

I very much doubt that all educational backgrounds are harbouring this void. If my suspicion is correct then it points to further systemic cultural capital imbalances. Academic writing is not something innate. If we are as Bourdieu has described us, dispositional beings who absorb much of what we are routinely exposed to in our social environment within our various skills or ineptitudes, then we would do well to access and routinely apply these writing guidelines early.

One caveat worth noting before clicking on the link above is that Bourdieu has suggested the particular academic style portrayed in the links is an ethnocentrism and part of the symbolic violence to have emerged from the British schooling and university systems (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 169-170). He himself has often been castigated for his own “obscurantism”, which is a self-qualifying style, perhaps used to cope with his own paranoia at being misunderstood (hailing from a lower social background to his peers Bourdieu’s ‘cleft habitus’ seemed prone to an intellectual paranoia). In many ways his style also commits to not committing, striving to prevent his application of his “open concepts” (habitus, field and capital) from being read dogmatically and universalized. Still as undergraduates or Phd candidates we lack the symbolic power and accompanying academic freedoms of Bourdieu to successfully break from the rules of this academic diction.  So we must labour on under the yoke of the ‘clear and concise’ which I am starting to suspect is not too kind to writing in terms of the systemic and wholly indeterminable.

Bourdieu P, Wacquant L J D (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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