Making academic writing sparkle


Do you use Gerry Mullins and Margaret Kiley’s great article ‘It’s a PhD not a Nobel Prize: How experienced examiners assess research theses’ (2010) with your doctoral students? One of my favourite sections describes how:

‘One of the unifying responses was the use of the artistic metaphor… the use of the artistic metaphor extended to such terms as “elan”, “passion”, “excitement” and “sparkle”.’

(Mullins & Kiley 2010, p. 379)

What does it mean for academic writing to sparkle, or even sizzle, to move beyond visual metaphor? What are some examples of sparkling writing you show your students, if we know that’s what examiners seek? How do you assist students in engendering excitement in their readers, as opposed to consigning their audience to the deadening effects of much academic writing?  Maybe literary support is useful for supervisors here, to think about precision in the choice of language, careful editing and polishing, deft structuring of sentences and employment of figurative language. I am interested in the pedagogies supervisors employ during the PhD as writing apprenticeship that go beyond clarity to elan.

Mullins, G., & Kiley, M. (2002). It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize: how experienced examiners assess research theses. Studies in Higher Education, 27(4), 369-386.


Author: Lucinda McKnight

Dr Lucinda McKnight is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Deakin University. She has a BA in Fine Arts, Women's Studies and English from the University of Melbourne, an MA (Distinction) in Media, Culture and Communication, from the Institute of Education now at UCL, and a PhD in Education from Deakin University. Her cartoons have appeared in a number of publications, including Farrago and Health Voice. She has exhibited her artwork at Museum Victoria and the Victorian College of the Arts.

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