Writing Style and Brevity

As I’m putting the final, finishing touches on my final writing project for EDLP 702 and EDLP 715, the paper takes-on a special quality for me, akin to my past endeavors as a composer of music. The music typically took more time to develop, correct, and flush-out as a purely creative endeavor. While the feeling of coming to a conclusion is satisfying, it also challenges my personality for perfectionism. I’m bothered by artificial constraints like a page length, when I know to more fully develop my ideas I need more “space.”

But the limit also is a real one, that authors of articles must adhere to. I recently was reminded of that when preparing today for my presentations at VASCD (end of November) and VSTE (beginning of December). The topics are very similar so I’ll be able to share slides between both presentations. But I went back and used some work I had done over the past three years on something I call infoseeking fluency. It’s a framework I developed for bettering search skills through a research method for students.

I formally published the idea through Learning and Leading with Technology, a trade publication for the International Society for Technology in Education in their September/October, 2010 edition. The article originally was a long one, going I know beyond 14 pages, to really get at the essence of what I was trying to say. I was disappointed when they told me later they could devote just two pages to the idea. I went through several edits with their editors, until I decided a re-write was required.

And reading that article tonight, I was reminded of two important things about writing. First, how different my style of writing in that article feels to me, after writing for a more learned audience with our leadership papers. The style employed in the Infoseeking Fluency article comes more naturally to me, which is a similar voice to the one I employ for my blogging. The second realization was the reality of trying to say what you need to say in limited space. Being brief is both a curse and a blessing. But I am hoping as more publications evolve into digital-only versions, that these constraints born of economic reasoning fall away.

The peer review process that we finally employed in our last Saturday class this semester revealed even more for me. I didn’t take all the comments made on the paper I submitted, but they were nevertheless welcome and stopped me to think about things I hadn’t previously considered. The presentation feedback from my peers was also welcomed; the diversity of comments revealed the truth behind everyone seeing and noticing different things. The most valuable portion, however, was the time we spent group-editing other student work from our other cohort. Each of the three papers we reviewed covered the same topic I chose to write about. Seeing different perspectives on how to combine the topics of Bolman and Deal’s frames for leadership and the ubiquity of social media was valuable in a number of ways. I saw “paths” of varying quality, but talking these out with my partners both solidified my initial reactions, and in in one case, they changed my mind. I saw very different ways of organizing thoughts, even though in my mind I’d picked one way which was of course different than what I saw. While I eventually stuck with my own plan of attack for organizing the paper, the challenge and “internal conversation” in my head I know was a good mental exercise. It helped me try and prove the strength in my approach through my writing revisions.

In closing on this topic — continual writing in one style I think is beneficial for improving within that style. Writing for a trade publication can be more casual, of course, but it also now feels like “cheating” without citing every other fact you state. I look forward to the opportunities ahead in continuing to challenge my writing, as I see opportunities in the future for writing for both kind of audiences — practitioners in the field who want quick advice and others who are looking for supporting research.

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