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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Forbes

Unlocking the power of persuasive academic writing: Insights from Time to Write Persuasively by Karyn Gonano

I love reading books about writing. I find they can really help when motivation is waning. Some of my favourites are:

Recently I read Time to Write Persuasively by Karyn Gonano, a communications expert and writing coach who works with academics.

I love how Karyn really challenges the reader to think about why they are doing what they are doing. She argues as academics we are writers, and we "write our research" into the world. Presumably, we care about our research and we want others to care about it too, but we don't always write like we care about the reader!

Academics tend to focus on the what and the how of their work, rather than the why, or we treat the why as an afterthought. It is part of the "genre" to demonstrate our credibility by focusing heavily on the literatures, defending methodological choices, explaining how data analysis was done etc. These are all important aspects of writing research.

Additionally, a lot of advice on writing journal articles asks us to make the "so what, why now?" very clear, yet it is not uncommon for the persuasive element to be entirely absent from publications. As Pat Thomson writes, journals don't want to just publish your results, they want to publish articles which clearly articulate why these results matter—and to whom.

This means we are supposed to be persuading our readers that our research matters to them.

Time to Write Persuasively is a quick and easy read, and, unsuprisingly for a book on persuasion, very convincing in its central argument: that if we want our research to matter, we need to write in a way that changes how our readers think and feel.

I've taken a lot away from this book but there is one key piece of advice that I thought I was already doing well, but, now realise I have room for improvement—getting feedback. I will often send off a draft for a colleague to read before submitting it to a journal but that is the only point in the writing process where I do so.

Karyn's advice is that we need to be seeking feedback at all points in the process, from thinking, reading, and planning, through to drafting and revising.

I have never done this (unless, of course, I am working with co-authors which makes it much easier to implement Karyn's advice, but even then, the writing team should be seeking external feedback).

My one hesitation with implementing the advice is that I'm worried people will get sick of me asking for feedback! However, Karyn is big on writing circles and promotes a very social process when it comest to writing.

Ultimately, I want my writing to matter to someone other than just me, so don't be surprised if you hear from me, asking, "What do you think of this crazy idea?"

Because to write research that matters, it takes a village!

And to that end, Karyn offers coaching, and I've been working with her to craft my researcher identity and grant writing skills. Trust me when I say this is an entirely different way of writing for academics, and like any craft, requires deliberate practice and continuous feedback if you want to improve. It's not an easy process, but one which is really connecting me to the "why" of my research.

And what is my why? I'm so glad you asked!

"Leading connection through singing"

After much soul-searching, I can see that this is the at the heart of everything I do.

Are you ready to persuade the world that your research matters?


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