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University of the Arts London

Is the academic essay becoming a fossil through lack of authorial voice? The case for more stylish and exploratory writing

Abstract

First year BA students writing their first academic essays are bombarded with advice about achieving academic tone: key features of this are the avoidance of personal pronouns and a preference for the passive over the active voice. These conventions can however become fossilised, turning essays into a ‘monolithic form’. While this advice helps to ground the student’s appreciation of rigour and works towards greater objectivity and research-based accuracy, this article asks whether killing the pronouns can also strangle the individual voice. The pronouns are one obvious feature among many that contribute to clarity of style. The standardised forms are easier to assess than the more exploratory and elliptical style of essay writing, which tends to be less valued and understood. Using the ideas of Sturm (2012) and Sword (2012), this piece explores contradictory evidence in sample authors and style guides, and aims to nuance advice by combining academic rigour with strengthening the students' authorial voice, while still remaining mindful of conventions.

Keywords

academic essay style, expository, objectivity, pronouns, authorial voice, empowerment

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Author Biography

Kieron Devlin

Academic Support Lecturer, London College of Fashion.


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