Creativity in Academic Papers

It’s been said that reading sparks the imagination. In a similar way, the imagination sparks writing. One of the cool things about writing is that writers can use their creativity to make stories come to life.

However, it often seems that academic writing stifles a writer’s ability to use his or her imagination. Fortunately, this is not completely true. Although academic writing is more structured than creative writing, it is still possible to use your imagination and be creative.

The best place to use your creativity in an academic paper is in the introduction. This is where you want to grab your readers and make them want to read on. One of the most effective techniques to use in an academic paper is to create a world or scenario that helps readers connect with your topic. For example, one of the best papers I’ve read, which dealt with women’s issues, began by contrasting the lives of a prostitute named Stacy and a college student named Tammy. Both of these characters were made up, but they connected the paper’s more abstract ideas with the real world.

Another way to be creative in an academic paper is to make up examples to support some of your points. For instance, if you are writing about texting and driving, include a description of how it feels to look up from a text and realize you’ve run slightly off the road. This doesn’t have to be something that you actually experienced. Just imagine what it must be like. However, this does not mean that you should create statistics for a research study or scientific paper. Always be sure to base your paper on credible research.

Not all assignments allow for creativity, but if you see a place to use your imagination in an academic paper, go for it. It’ll make the writing process more fun, and readers will enjoy your paper a lot more.

Correcting Others’ Grammar

Almost everyone remembers the following scenario from their childhood:

“Mom, me and Ashley are going to the park.”

Then your mother corrected you: “Ashley and I are going to the park.”

Remember how annoying that was? All you wanted to do was swing and slide, but your mother decided to waste your time by teaching you correct grammar. It worked, though. Now you have the ability to sound intelligent. Unfortunately, correct grammar came with a horrible side effect. You can’t hear someone say “me and John” without wanting to remind them that it’s “John and I.”

It’s definitely a risk to correct someone’s grammar. Whether you mean to or not, you imply that you are smarter than the other person. They might get angry or embarrassed, and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or, even worse, get punched.

If you feel the need to correct someone’s grammar, ask yourself the following questions:

Am I their parent?
Am I their English teacher?
Does it really matter in this conversation?
Do I want to risk embarrassing them?

In general, it’s best to avoid correcting another person’s grammar in social situations. At best, it’s going to be awkward. Remember that people have different ways of speaking, so just chalk up grammar mistakes to their own personal style.

Side note: If someone is annoying you or making you feel inferior, start correcting their grammar. They’ll leave right away.

Why Can’t I Write the Way I Speak?

When you begin college, one of the most difficult things to learn is how to write with an academic tone. Many freshman composition professors drill into their students how to avoid first person, second person, contractions, slang, and so on. At first, all of these rules seem to cramp our writing style and make papers unnecessarily difficult. They force us to readjust how we communicate, and writing feels unnatural. Often, the question arises, “Why can’t I just write the way I speak?” Fortunately, there is method to the madness of academic writing and good reasons behind all of these crazy rules.

The problem with humans in general is that we tend to speak incoherently. Pay close attention to a conversation. There are a lot of ums, weird pauses, and sentences that aren’t really sentences. This works when we’re speaking because we can use hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice to help us convey ideas. We can correct what we say or further explain ideas as needed. It’s a really good system of communication, but it’s complicated.

Unfortunately, writers are distanced from their audience. They can’t tell if the reader understands their point or if they need to explain it a little more. They don’t even have the benefit of hand gestures or facial expressions. Therefore, a writer has to be clear and logical. He or she has only one chance to explain an idea using nothing but printed words.

Also, writers need to be seen as trustworthy before a reader takes them seriously. If you saw a paper that started with “Hey y’all! Let’s talk about photosynthesis,” what would you think? You’d probably think the writer really didn’t know what he or she was talking about. The best way to make yourself appear knowledgeable about a topic is to write correctly and with an academic tone. After all, college students are part of academia, so they need to appear like they know what they are talking about, even if the paper’s content is total bull.

One of the advantages writing has over speaking is the opportunity to revise. When you say something stupid or embarrassing, it’s out there. You can’t take it back. Fortunately, if you type something that sounds dumb or awkward, the backspace key is available. You can look back at what you’ve written and make any necessary changes. The downside of this is that readers hold you to a higher standard because they realize you’ve had time to revise. So pay careful attention during the revision process. This is where your paper is elevated to an academic level.

In theory, you could write the way you speak. However, it probably won’t make much sense. What you write down on paper lasts longer than what you say, so make sure you show your best side. With a little work, you can appear better, nicer, and smarter (on paper, at least).

Celebrate Dialect

“Hey, y’all! Sure is sunny out there today.”

“Good evening, gentlemen! The weather outside is most delightful.”

Let’s face it, we all judge people based on how they speak. Look at the two examples above. The first person may be classified as Southern, uneducated, or possibly a hillbilly. At the same time, he or she sounds rather friendly. The second person seems educated, upper class, maybe a little formal, or even stuffy. We can gather all this just from a few words on a page.

Human minds like to put people in different categories, and one of the major criterion we use is dialect. We can often tell where a person is from based only on the way they speak. This is not a bad thing; it just proves that we want to know all we can about other people because we’re interested in them.

The problem arises when we make snap judgments about others based solely on their manner of speaking. People with southern accents are commonly thought to be uneducated and backwards, even though this may not be the case at all.

Linguists spend much of their time studying various dialects. The United States alone has over 24 English dialects. Linguists have found that dialects are just as complicated, and often more complicated, than Standard English, the version of the language we are taught to speak in school and we are familiar with on the radio or television. In fact, the Southern dialect sounds more like British English than standard American English does.

In many ways, dialects represent America. We all put our own spin on the language, but we can understand each other and share our ideas across geographical lines. Dialects simply allow us to be individuals.

So embrace your dialect. If you’re Southern, don’t be afraid to sound like it. If you’re from New York, be proud of how you speak. Your version of English is just as valuable as anyone else’s.

The Fun of Reading

Do you remember the first time you were able to read a book word for word? Do you remember how proud your kindergarten self was of your new skill? Soon, you were able to read things about dragons, clouds, little kids just like you who went on great adventures. In your imagination, you went right along with them to faraway castles or the Wild West or even the moon.

If you’re like me, one of the most exciting days of the school year was when the book fair came. You went through shelf after shelf looking at illustrations and reading back covers to try to select the book you most wanted to read.

Over time, though, reading becomes a chore. At this point in our lives, reading most often involves research articles and textbooks. The excitement of that new skill has worn off, and reading is nothing more than drudgery.

But what if you could get back the excitement you once felt about reading? One way to do this is just to go to the library and find something that you want to read. Forget about learning something; do this purely for fun. Even if you have to start with Dr. Seuss, go for it. Use reading to spark your imagination and take you out of the world of papers and tests for a while.

In spite of your limited time, I’d like to encourage you to take some time to read just for enjoyment. Maybe you could substitute a book for a movie one night and just see what happens. A book often does the same thing as a movie without providing the soundtrack or visuals. It may rekindle your love for books and open up your imagination to worlds you’d forgotten long ago.