This post is a sort of follow-up to a few others in which I’ve written about my own work turning toward public writing. Fortunately, other academics have laid the groundwork in this field. This type of work is not uncommon. And my own thinking has not been in a vacuum–I’ve been influenced by some smart critiques of academic writing as well as some models for the type of work I want to do.
A lot of my own ideas have been shaped by conversations and examples I’ve seen on Twitter. People like Matt Gabriel (who started Modern Medieval and invited me to join a few years ago; see here), Kathleen Kennedy (blog), and David Perry (blog), have shown how academics can do well with reaching the public; recently, I’ve enjoyed seeing friends like Eric Weiskott write some great pieces (see here). I’ve also been inspired by sites like History Today and Medievalists.net.
More generally, I’ve found it helpful to read what others have written about. Some have shared their experiences, suggestions, and arguments for why public writing by academics matters. So I’ve compiled some of the pieces that have resonated with me on the subject. These are roughly chronological, with a few aberrations.
Mike Rose, “Opinion: Writing for the Public,” College English 72 (2010), 284-92, seems to be a classic in the field of rhetoric and composition for its focus on public writing. He offers a strong argument in favor of scholarly voices in public writing, reflections on his own experiences starting in this genre, and some ideas about how academics can successfully enter this genre.
Paul Thomas, “Professors as Public Intellectuals: A Reader” (Feb. 17, 2014), is a great starting place, since he provides an overview of some of the major issues, responses to a few others thinking about academics as public intellectuals, and his own roundup of links to relevant pieces. In “Writing for the Public: A Framework” (June 3, 2015), Thomas offers suggestions, tips, and examples of what makes compelling public writing, based on his own experiences in teaching and writing for the public.
David Leonard, “In Defense of Public Writing” (Nov. 12, 2014) on Chronicle Vitae, suggests that “Writing for a mainstream audience is just another form of teaching.”
Anne Trubek, “5 Lessons on Writing for the Public” (Aug. 1, 2015), offers practical tips for writers who want to reach the public, especially in journalism and trade publishing. In “Learning To Write All Over Again” (Aug. 18, 2016), Trubek also recounts her own experiences learning to write publicly rather than for other academics.
Jeff Guhin, “On Writing in Sociology” (April 19, 2017), provides a reflection on the accessibility of academic writing–for both other scholars and general readers–with many of the points applicable to more than social sciences.