Teaching Analytical Writing
| Peter Klein |
More on academic writing: This paper by Wayne Schiess, “Legal Writing Is Not What It Should Be,” deals specifically with law students, but applies in many ways to academic writing more generally. Quoting from the introduction:
The writing required of students in high school and college is often what I call “self-expression writing” rather than expository writing. Self-expression writing tends to be writer-focused, not reader-focused.That is, self-expression writers focus primarily on expressing their own ideas. This is surely a necessary developmental step for improving writing skill, but it is two steps removed from the skill of analytical legal writing. Once high school and college writers move beyond self-expression, they usually produce writing that can be called “knowledge-telling” or conveying information.
But legal writing is not self-expression, and it is another step beyond knowledge telling. One author has referred to the skill of analytical legal writing as “knowledge transforming.” Thus, legal writing is a form of expository writing in which the focus should be on the reader‟s ability to understand. This is in contrast to self-expression writing, where clearly and effectively conveying information to the reader is secondary to expressing one’s self the way one desires. And it is in contrast to knowledge-telling, in which the primary purpose is conveying information, not analyzing a problem.
Of course, self-expression and knowledge-telling are necessary steps, as I’ve acknowledged. But I can report, based on anecdotal evidence, that some students get little training even in these two developmental steps. Some college curricula do not require much writing at all. For example, in my teaching of the required, first-year legal writing course, I often have students who studied science or engineering in college. Many of these students arrive at law school and tell me they have never written a paper in college.
The kind of writing required for good social science is also what Schiess calls “analytical writing,” and my sense is that few graduate students have any experience with or training in this kind of writing. How to teach it is another question. Schiess has several suggestions that are specific to law schools; how can they be applied to economics or sociology or business administration?