Practitioners need to learn scholarly writing

My entire career has been spent teaching and working with graduate students who are also practitioners. I’ve worked with college presidents and vice presidents far along in their careers as well as new master’s students just starting theirs. During this time, I’ve had many conversations with colleagues and students regarding how to best prepare practitioners in practice not focusing on research . Common questions include the necessity of theory, teaching technical skills, and the value of case studies for offering a glimpse into “real life.” One of the most common questions that come up in these discussions is the role of scholarly writing. Do students need to write a dissertation? What should that look like for practitioners versus future scholars? Should class assignments mirror real life problems or the abstract world of scholarship. In today’s post, I want to explain why I think practitioners need to learn scholarly writing.

Photo credit: A. Birkan Caghan

Scholarly writing is hard. It is easy to say some students can do it and other can’t. This simply isn’t true.

Admittedly, it can be next to impossible to teach scholarly writing at the graduate level to students with very poor writing skills entering the program.

However, as faculty, we have to avoid the notion that this is something that comes naturally.

I spend nearly 25% of all of my classes focused on writing. It is hard both for me and the students. Yet, this is often the part of class that students remember the most.

But the question remains, why do practitioners need to learn scholarly writing?

A research paper or literature review are unlikely to be required in professional practice. Shouldn’t students focus on writing forms that they are more likely to use in their careers?

While some writing assignments in professional genres may be useful, I contend that long form academic writing is needed.

Scholarly writing requires skills and abilities that are absolutely essential for successful practitioners.

Scholarly writing requires the ability to analyze complex ideas, draw conclusions, and effectively communicate these to a reader.

Writing about complex ideas and conveying relevant details clearly and effectively is vital in any profession. In addition, scholarly writing helps students learn to explain both sides of an argument and use contrarian evidence in explaining their position.

Moreover, students have to focus on organization to keep the reader focused and engaged on their work.

Learning to think and communicate in long form prose exercises different muscles. Thinking about pushing an argument over 15-20 pages is not the same as 5 pages. Likewise, writing a 150-200 page dissertation forces one to engage with ideas in differently than a class paper.

The analytic and communication skills learned through scholarly writing are not easily replicated in other forums. For this reason, practitioners need to learn scholarly writing.

To be sure, one of the primary arguments against teaching practitioners scholarly writing is that there is so much bad writing out there. Ineffectual, jargon-laden prose dissecting esoteric notions completely devoid of any practical implications lead many to argue against to value of scholarly writing.

We can’t let these bad apples deter us from leveraging this important learning strategy. Instead, let’s focus on the power of clear, concise, and effective scholarly writing. Studying and practicing scholarly writing can hold tremendous power and potential for improving the ability of practitioners to convey complex ideas in their practice.

As a result, I believe in the absolute necessity of teaching scholarly writing to practitioner-graduate students.