Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing & Publishing)

Becker, HS
University of Chicago Press, Chicago
9780226041322 (pb)

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Cover of book What agonies and apprehensions do scholarly writers undergo in their attempt to get their works published? This book offers an excellent analysis of what makes writing appear a risky venture and what academic writers usually feel reluctant about doing, based on both personal experience and collective observation about the trails and tribulations that academic writers encounter.

The author takes a personal and autobiographical approach to share his observations that come out of thirty odd years of academic writing. We hence come across many pieces that troubled and confused Becker in the same way it might concern a new writer. Many new writers seldom see anyone actually writing, seldom see working drafts or any writing that isn't ready for publication. The author aims to remove that mystery and let them see that the work they read is made by people who experience the same difficulties they do.

This easy to read book is divided into ten accessible but practical chapters for those who face concerns and anxieties with writing. The author puts the reader on the therapist's couch and comforts them with the fact that the tensions they face are not rare, that –'they were no crazier than anyone else. It was a common disease….something that is 'going around,' knowing that others had crazy writing habits should have been and clearly was, a good thing.'

The book offers observations about how writers struggling with writing frequently resort to redundancies, pompous phrases and pretentious expression in seeking to dispel their anxiety. Several years of teaching a writing course enabled Becker to analyse and describe the process that produces both the writing people do and the difficulties they have doing it. Becker shows how authors often try to give substance and weight to what they have written by sounding academic, even at the expense of their real meaning. Many others go to lengths to ensure that what was written could not be taken for a 'finished' product as a means to keep people from taking their writing as a serious expression of their abilities. Becker mentions how he encouraged participants in his writing classes to reveal their psyches so as to discover that such revelation would not harm them.

Scholarly writers have to organize their material, and present clear arguments encouraging the readers to accept the conclusions. Becker notes that some 'make this job harder than it need be when they think there is only One Right Way to do it, that each paper they write has a preordained structure they must find.' Noting that the difficulty of not being able to write since the right approach couldn't be found is common, Becker suggests a way out. 'Taking readers into your confidence about your troubles requires admitting that you had them and, therefore, that you are not the paragon who always knows the Right Way and execute it flawlessly… but some people don't like to make such admissions, the remedy is to try it and prove to yourself that it doesn't hurt.

There are no quick fixes or easy solutions offered to overcome the challenges of academic writing, yet the book is therapeutic, comforting and enables writers to understand that producing an acceptable and presentable piece of academic writing comes with its inherent set of pains, but also offers practical advice on how to confront this.

Najam Abbas
Institute of Ismaili Studies, London