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Voice in Academic Writing

Dr Vassilena Parashkevova
Session overview
1. Analysing how voice works
in two sample passages and
to what effect 3. Further practice analysing voice
in published academic writing
2. Drawing conclusions based
alongside samples of your own
on these observations
writing
about what voice is and the
variety of ways in which it
can be demonstrated in
academic writing
Where can you discern “voice” in the following passages?
“The approach by Dweck rattles the cage of “In [the] distant pages [of an encyclopedia
normative practice, though unfortunately entitled The Heavenly Emporium of
without putting these practices into a Benevolent Knowledge] it is written that
wider political context. (It is interesting animals are divided into:
that the RAINS project on national (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b)
assessment mentioned earlier referred to embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained;
this work to provide evidence for harmful (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous
effects of mass testing.) I think Dweck’s ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are
approach can be a useful starting point for included in this classification; (i) those that
CEP as an initial manoeuvre to disrupt tremble as if they were mad; (j)
essentialist assumptions about human innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a
bodies and knowable selves.” (Claiborne very fine camel-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m)
2014: 5) those that have just broken the flower
from Psychology in Education: Critical vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble
Theory ~ Practice Who is speaking flies.” (Borges [1942] 1999: 231)
and to whom? from “John Wilkins’ Analytical Language”
What is ‘voice’?
“The approach by Dweck rattles the cage of
metaphor
normative practice, though unfortunately
without putting these practices into a wider Attitude markers
political context. (It is interesting that the
RAINS project on national assessment
Brackets/parenthesis (a side comment to the
mentioned earlier referred to this work to reader)
provide evidence for harmful effects of mass
signposting
testing.) I think Dweck’s approach can be a Opinion; tentative
useful starting point for CEP as an initial Hedging
suggestion
(modal verb)
manoeuvre to disrupt essentialist assumptions
about human bodies and knowable selves.” Judgement value: i.e. not the be-all and
(Claiborne 2014: 5) end-all; merely an approach (esp. as
What is the overall effect of repeated: ‘starting’ & ‘initial’).
‘voice’ in this passage?
What does it say about Judgement value, positive
Dweck? How does that comment on the source (Dweck),
work in Caliborne’s recommendation for future
argument? practice/research
Compare the previous passage (1) to:
2. Dweck (2006: 194) states that, “contemporary educational
practices rely explicitly on individual notions of competence that
are highly valued within the competitive, hierarchical classroom
environment in which only a minority of students can be the A
students”.
3. Dweck’s paper (2006) is divided into two parts, each discussing
a specific theory of achievement, respectively “entity” theory and
“incremental” lay theory. She recommends employing the latter
theory in discussions of student achievement.
How is voice
[adapted from Claiborne 2014] present in 2 and
3?
“In [the] distant pages [of an encyclopedia entitled The
Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge] it is 1. What is unusual
written that animals are divided into: about this classification
(a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed of animals?
ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e)
mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that 2. What can you tell about
are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble the author of the
as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those classification and the
drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) culture he/she belongs to?
those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those
that at a distance resemble flies.” (Borges [1942] 1999: 3. How does the genre of the
231) encyclopedia affect the way
from “John Wilkins’ Analytical Language” knowledge of animals is
structured?
How is voice present in this 4. In what genres and disciplines
passage? How does cultural is this technique of knowledge
identity affect voice? representation most likely to
appear?
Voice in writing: in groups, discuss your
understanding of this diagram
• ‘Voice refers to the way that authors Understanding,
present themselves within their interpretation, views,
written work. It is the mediating link analysis
To give an overview,
between author and subject in any to describe, to
style of writing, and it reflects “what Purpose analyse, to argue a
the author brings to, aims for, and case, to critique, to
does with the material” (Charmaz & apply theory, etc.
Mitchell, 1996, p. 295).’ (Gray 2017: Structure; order/handling
179) of content
• Voice is also affected by contexts such
as discipline, genre and audience. Intended reader(s)
• Voice can be marked by the author’s Conventions and practices
gender, class, ethnic, professional, etc. on WHAT is important to
identity comment on, HOW we word
Self-positioning in relation to the writing things, and WHAT we can
and its theme/object say at all
Academic voice variations:
I, we, it, -ed, he/she/the author, imperatives
• Firstly, I will explore …, secondly I will analyse, finally, I will argue that …; As
a teacher, I find it useful to conceive of learning as …;
• Based on these results, we [inclusive: you, the reader, and I, the author] can
surmise that … ; As we have seen, …; As we [royal ‘we’ when a single author]
pointed out in the previous section, …; We [we, as a society, or at least those
concerned with what is discussed here, and I] need to establish new
classroom practices that cater for ….
• This essay aims to … It offers, firstly, an overview of … and, then, draws
conclusions on …
• It will be argued that …; As was already suggested in the Introduction, …;
Here, it is demonstrated that … [this can become awkward]
• The present researcher has found that …; The author will argue that … [very
awkward and confusing – avoid!]
• Consider, for instance, the following example …; Take X as a case in point…
In academic writing, you can demonstrate your voice:
1. Through use/choice of personal pronouns
2. Through signposting What examples of each of these can
3. Through cautious language/hedging you think of?
4. In the way you structure your essay (incl. division into sections) and justify/draw attention to this
structure
5. In the way you explain your understanding of the topic/title/genre, of any terms, of the scope
and remit of your essay in relation to the topic
6. Through pacing: how you emphasise certain points (explicitly or through length of discussion)
and only touch upon others
7. In your particular selection and synthesis of sources: what sources to use, what to take from
each source, how to present that and how to combine it with other sources. Give yourself the last
word on each point!
8. In the ways you use sources: quoting or summarising; explaining your understanding of sources’
structure, purpose, significance in the field and to your argument/topic
9. Through critical distance: your arguments are clearly distinguished from those of others you cite;
your structure is distinct from those of your sources
10. In your arguments and conclusions in general: do you just list examples or do you explain their
significance; what is the sum total significance of all your points?
11. Through criticality: do you only describe/summarise/list or do you marshal an argument?
12. Through rhetorical means: metaphors (use with caution!), repetition, rephrasing, etc.
Task
• In groups, select 2-3 passages from the following slides and discuss
where and how voice is used in them.
• What kind of text/genre/discipline do you think each comes from?
How do you know?
• Examine the sample of your writing you have brought to this session.
How can you demonstrate your voice more effectively, drawing on the
aspects and examples of voice we discussed today (bearing in mind
your discipline and the genre of your assignment)?
Passages 1-2
1. Latour (2004) provides a thought-provoking piece which challenges us to think
more deeply about what underlies political critique as it concerns itself with
challenging powerful and dominating structures in society, including state
surveillance and limits on personal freedoms. […] Using Latour’s argument as a
starting point, I would like to consider the relationship between this form of
radical critique and academic critique in education. (Gourley 2015: 312).
2. To the points given by Zotzmann and O’Regan, we could also add perceptions
about language. In Fadhel’s case, his narrative invokes the commonly held view
of languages as entities that are (1) named (French, English, etc.); (2) distinct
from each other, suggesting a commonly held view that languages should be
kept separate; (3) learned in a particular order (L1, L2, L3, etc.); and (4)
attached to particular groups of people as markers of national, ethnic and/or
cultural identity. Fadhel’s statement about French being ‘difficult’, his life in
France being ‘hard’ and his question of whether French people view him ‘as a
human being’ suggests ambivalence about inhabiting a French or Francophone
identity. (Preece 2016: 4)
Passages 3-4
3. The term multimedia principle (Mayer, 2001) refers to the robust research finding that learning
with words and pictures is more effective than learning with words alone. […] It should be noted
that the multimedia principle refers generally to the (positive) impact of visual and verbal
information on learning outcomes; however, basic principles (see the remaining chapters in Part II
of this volume) and advanced principles (see Chapters 15 – 25 in Part III ) of multimedia learning
have been synthesized that provide a more nuanced approach to understanding how multimedia
materials can be formatted for optimal impact and how learner strategies and processes can
combine with multimedia materials to determine learning outcomes. (Butcher : 175)
4. Views of this kind were put forward by Gottlob Frege (1980, pp. 79–80) and Bertrand Russell
(1919), as part of their philosophy that the mathematics of number is part of pure logic. With
wrinkles ironed out, the claim is:
The number k is the set of k-membered sets.
This runs into two problems – one mathematical, the other metaphysical. The mathematical
problem is that there is no set of sets with exactly 1 member; hence there would be no cardinal
number 1. From the assumption that there is such a set, two uncontroversial principles about sets
(union and separation) lead straight to Russell’s paradox. Russell (1908) evades the paradox by
means of his theory of types. The details of his theory of types need not detain us, but an
essential element is that things are regarded as falling into exclusive layers or ‘types’… (Giaquinto
2015: 23)
Passage 5
5. This reflective essay explores some of the pedagogical challenges I have faced in
teaching postcolonial literature and theory at the University of Edinburgh. There
are particular social dynamics at work at Edinburgh that make engaging with
intersectionality, particularly in the context of colonialism and racism, a rather
complex endeavor. Edinburgh is a Russell Group university, and our undergraduate
constituency is overwhelmingly white, middle class and British, with a high
proportion of students coming from British public-school backgrounds. Many of
these students approach postcolonial writing with well-meaning liberal intentions,
but often adopt what Graham Huggan (2001) would term an exoticizing
perspective on cultures that are entirely unfamiliar to them. The tiny proportion
of students from ethnic-minority backgrounds who study within the department,
on the other hand, can feel profoundly alienated due to what Les Back (2004)
terms the “sheer weight of whiteness” at Edinburgh. However, I have found that
by adopting critical pedagogical models from Paulo Freire, Sara Ahmed and
others, it has been possible to foster an active, dialogical and transformative
learning environment that has allowed students from these diverse backgrounds
to extend their epistemological parameters and feel empowered to challenge
dominant ideologies within and outside the university. (Keown 2014/15: 102-3)
Passage 6
6. In recent years, discourses about citizenship have come to occupy center stage, in both
contemporary political practice and academic scholarship. The salience of citizenship has certainly
made itself felt in anthropology as well, but less so in our educational subfield. In this chapter, my aim
is to explore the relationships between educational processes and citizenship education from an
anthropological perspective. In doing so, I review (not exhaustively) a good deal of work in
anthropology that probes these relationships, but I also argue that our patchwork conceptual
frameworks in the anthropology of education have yet to catch up with the richness and complexity
of citizenship education across both formal and informal educational domains. I hope to point the
way toward a more coherent and unified approach.
This chapter begins with an attempt to define citizenship and democracy, and to offer anthropological
distinctions between formal and informal citizenship education, and between democratic and non-
democratic citizenship education. From there, I discuss the history of our subfield’s engagement with
citizenship education and political practice, and raise questions about our existing conceptual
limitations. Next, I review a broad range of anthropological scholarship on what I would call
citizenship education (even when the anthropologists themselves do not frame it as education),
attempting to bring into critical dialogue the various ways that anthropologists have documented how
citizens are formed. What follows is a brief personal narrative about how I “discovered” the issue of
citizenship in my own work on Mexican youth and secondary education. The chapter is then capped
by a final programmatic reflection about how anthropology could contribute to understanding not
only informal and non-formal citizenship education, but also one of the most important and active
movements in global education reform today: formal school-based democratic citizenship education.
(Levinson 2011: 280)
A further activity on voice to try in your own
time…
Write down the names of 3 real people and tape the list to your
computer screen. The list should include:
1. A top expert in your field/your tutor (someone whom you would
really like to impress)
2. A fellow student/practitioner on your course (someone who would
give you a fair and honest critique of your work)
3. A non-academic friend, relative, or neighbour.
Read your writing aloud and try to imagine each person’s response to
your words. What changes need to be made to voice in each situation?
How far each person is likely to get?
Adapted from Sword (2012: 46-7)
References
• Borges, Jorge Louis ([1942] 1999) Selected Non-Fictions. Ed. Eliot Weinberger. Trans. Esther Allen,
Suzanne Jill Levine, and Eliot Weinberger, London: Viking.
• Butcher, Kirsten R. (2014) The multimedia principle IN Ed Richard E. Mayer The Cambridge Handbook
of Multimedia Learning, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
• Claiborne, Lise Bird (2014) The potential of critical educational psychology beyond its meritocratic
past IN Ed. Tim Corcoran Psychology in Education: Critical Theory~Practice. Rotterdam: Sense, 1-16.
• Giaquinto, Marcus (2015) Philosophy of number IN Eds. Roi Cohen Kadosh and Ann Dowker The
Oxford Handbook of Numerical Cognition, Oxford: Oxford UP, 17-32.
• Gourlay, Lesley (2015) Open education as a ‘heterotopia of desire’, Learning, Media and Technology,
40(3): 310-327.
• Gray, Gary C. (2017) Academic voice in scholarly writing, The Qualitative Report 22(1): 179-196.
• Keown, Michelle (2014/15) Teaching postcolonial literature in an elite university: an Edinburgh
lecturer’s perspective, Journal of Feminist Scholarship 7/8: 102-9.
• Levinson, Bradely A.U. (2011) Toward an anthropology of (democratic) Citizenship education IN Eds.
Bradley A.U. Levinson and Mica Pollock A Companion to the Anthropology of Education, London:
Blackwell, 279-298.
• Preece, Siân (2016) Introduction: language identity in applied linguistics IN Ed. Siân Preece The
Routledge Handbook of Language and Identity, London: Taylor and Francis, 1-16.
• Sword, Helen (2012) Stylish Academic Writing. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.