1. Heinrich, Kathleen T. PhD, RN, FAAN

Article Content

What is a scholarly writing style? If you're not quite sure, here's a for instance. Were you tempted to cross out the contraction you're, the second word in the previous sentence, and change it to you are? Then this article has already violated 1 of your stylistic standards for good scholarly writing-no contractions. Which brings us back to the original question: What is a scholarly writing style? Thomas and Turner1(p10) liken writing styles to "the typeface in which a text is printed. We may overlook it and frequently do, but it is always there." As precise definitions elude, the simplest way to define style is to differentiate it from substance. If substance is what you write about, then style is how you write about it.


In the midst of a cultural shift accelerated by the Internet, a single standard for scholarly writing is giving way to a divergence of styles. Yet academics, as a group, fear that attending to style shifts the focus from substantive content to form and leads to scholarly writing that colleagues consider unserious.2 Given this shared concern, why should you-as a reader, writer, or reviewer for Nurse Educator (NE)-care about scholarly writing styles? Because your reading pleasure and NE's future may depend on it.


With the stakes so high, let's be clear. Substance is not what lures you to read journal articles on unlikely topics, what softens your preconceived notions with a compelling sequence of complex ideas simply stated, or what leaves you seeing the world differently. Only stylish scholarly writing can make that happen. Unfortunately, stylish scholarly writing is in short supply. Experts agree the gap is growing between what readers call good writing and what's being published.2-4 Editors and reviewers commiserate over the sorry state of manuscripts being submitted to nursing journals across the board. So it's timely, during NE's 40th anniversary, to spark an exchange of ideas about the writing style(s) that best communicate everything from novel teaching strategies to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).


After showing how NE reviewers' diverse views on scholarly writing styles mirror the style wars that are splintering academic disciplines and the culture at large into factions, this article shares some of the latest thinking on writing styles. My intent is to empower readers, writers, and reviewers to generate a shared definition of scholarly writing styles that make NE articles enlightening and entertaining to read, a pleasure to write, and a delight to review.


What Do Mixed NE Reviews Say About Scholarly Writing Style Preferences?

Have you ever submitted a manuscript sure it would be accepted only to have journal reviewers disagree with you and with each other? That's exactly what happened to a recent paper of mine, even though, as a long-time NE contributor and reviewer, I thought I knew a winning manuscript when I wrote one.


In reading the reviews, the first reviewer's comments were as expected, "The style is quite informal, using first and second person and including contractions. Given the nature of the topic, which emphasizes personal connection, the informal, conversational style fits the message." This reviewer recommended publication with minor revisions. A warning bell sounded when another reviewer suggested adding, "more scholarly references such as from the field of communication. Your ideas are worthy, but might be better in a short column in a different journal. It does not fit for a scholarly journal such as Nurse Educator." The third reviewer, after an encouraging opening sentence, voiced similar concerns, "The topic is interesting and relevant. The important points are not supported with references, and there is no clear argument developed. It is not appropriate for publication in a journal."


The editorial decision was accept with revisions that included adding citations and omitting some of the personal reflections as 2 reviewers "did not think this paper was a good fit for a scholarly journal and was too focused on the author's development and experience." Why the difference between the first reviewer's comments and recommendations and those of the other 2 reviewers?


Is There One Good Scholarly Writing Style or Many?

Teaching and learning are intimate activities and localized practices. When studied at close range, which is almost always, findings cannot be generalized. How then are teacher-scholars to advance the knowledge base when the prevailing scholarly writing style precludes personal sharing? Not to mention that an impersonal style is at odds with the conversational write-ups of SoTL projects in publications from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as well as in the higher education literature.


After sharing these concerns with the editor, she asked that I write this article. In the course of my research, it became clear that the controversy over scholarly writing styles goes well beyond this journal and well beyond nursing. The debate playing out in academe and within the larger culture is this: Is there only 1 acceptable scholarly writing style, or are there many? This is far from a new question because the history of language is, according to Elbow, "a continual tug of war between divergence and standardization."3( p366)


From this perspective, the first reviewer on my NE manuscript is a stand-in for those on the side of divergence. For them, stylish scholarly writing has more to do with making intelligent choices-matching message and style-than with following rules,2 whereas the other reviewers represent those with a standardized view of good scholarly writing. They equate scholarship with rules such as writing in the third person, eschewing personal stories and narratives, and posing arguments liberally cited with scholarly references.


Where's the Divide When It Comes to Scholarly Writing Styles?

The polar opposites for those with a standardized definition of scholarly writing are both-ands for those with a divergent view. From a standardized point of view, for example, good scholarly writing enlightens, whereas a divergent perspective allows for scholarly writing that both enlightens and entertains. This section explores 3 polarities that separate these stylistic camps and shares thought leaders' perspectives on each one.


Should Scholarly Writing Styles Distance or Engage Readers?

From the time we learned to hold a pen, we were taught to write school papers in the third person. Many nurses associate writing in the third person with scholarship and continue this practice for the whole of their careers. Some who try first-person writing worry that owning their own ideas, rather than hiding behind vague references to the author, renders them more vulnerable to criticism.


Writing in the third person distances authors from readers, whereas writing in the first person-using personal pronouns like I, you, and we-connects authors and readers. While wanting nursing scholarship to be taken seriously by the scientific community may be driving third-person writing, Chinn5(p1) writes that scholarly discourse is actually inhibited by the "[horizontal ellipsis]outdated idea that the use of first-person pronouns is forbidden."


Outdated is the operative word here. The APA Publication Manual endorsed the use of personal pronouns in social science writing in 1974.6 The AMA Manual of Style, the format used in NE, does so implicitly.7 As early as 1976, Zinsser8 pointed out that good writers make science accessible by "being themselves" and writing in the first person with warmth and humanity. These days, most academic disciplines allow first-person pronouns in scholarly journals, and this includes medical journals.2


Should Scholarly Writing Styles Enlighten or Entertain Readers?

Those of the standardized persuasion view personal story and narrative with suspicion because it nudges scholarly writing closer to the bright lights and glitz of entertainment. This goes to explaining why NE reviewers considered my manuscript unsuitable for a scholarly journal: too much storytelling (entertainment) and too little argument (enlightenment).


Yet, Sword's2 review of 100 style guides revealed that the telling of stories and the weaving of compelling narratives are a signature of good academic writing. Anecdotal evidence supports this. When she interviewed faculty across disciplines, they agreed it was tough to stay with scholarly articles that don't engage them in the conversation. From this, Sword2 concluded that good scholarly writing shows and tells through narrative as well as text.


In other words, good scholarly writing both enlightens and entertains readers. This stance calls into question academics and journalists' damning, either-or views of each other's writing styles. When academics refer to a paper as journalistic, it's code for superficial and unsubstantiated; when journalists call a paper academic, what they really mean is that it's jargon-laden and impenetrable.


Should Scholarly Writing Styles Stimulate Critical Thinking or Creative Juices?

Even though nursing is both an art and a science, nursing journals typically favor scientific writing that stimulates critical thinking and undervalue artful writing that inspires creativity. Sword2(p123) explains this by observing, "disciplinary cultures that value creative expression encourage and reward creatively structured scholarship, whereas disciplinary cultures that privilege scientific rigor encourage and reward structural rigor."


By way of example, research articles in nursing journals follow the conventional structure known as IMRAD (introduction, methods, results, and discussion) written in what is called a practical style. According to Pinker,9( p14) practical style "allows the reader to acquire timely information with a minimum of distraction, because writing is an instrument for delivering information with maximum efficiency and in such a way as to place the least burden on the reader."


Even though practical stylists value clarity and directness, Pinker9(p7) encourages them to write with flair by forgoing "plain words, austere expression, and formal style." Sword2(p73) suggests scholarly writers enliven articles with words that are vibrant and active, rather than predictable and jargon-y, and with titles as creative as they are descriptive. Dispelling the myth that scientific papers must have serious titles to be taken seriously, she offers inventive titles such as "Idioms Are Oblivious, Arrows Are Meticulous, Monads Are Promiscuous" as a testimony to the disruptive thinking that constellates innovation.


What Do Scholarly Writing Styles That Cross the Divide Look Like?

The NE Web site invites authors to contribute with a self-description, "Continuing its rich tradition of disseminating relevant, timely, and practical articles, Nurse Educator is now also inviting manuscripts on research in nursing education." What scholarly writing style(s) befit a specialty journal for nursing faculty that also publishes SoTL projects? This section excerpts 3 SoTL articles along with a scholarly writing style scorecard that relays the emphasis each one places on distancing versus engaging, enlightening versus entertaining, and stimulating critical thinking versus inspiring creativity.


Oermann's10 article, "Defining and Assessing the Scholarship of Teaching in Nursing," is a good example of the practical writing style. In an opening sentence as precise and efficient as her title, she writes, "Scholarship is essential to nursing education and the teacher's role: it is through the scholarly work of nurse educators that we expand our knowledge about student learning and identify best practices for promoting their learning and development."10( p370) Written for readers who want to understand SoTL well and quickly, this style fits the message. Italicized items on the scorecard reflect this article's emphasis on each polarity:


* Distance/Engage: draws readers closer with the personal pronoun "we"


* Enlighten/Entertain: congruent with the practical style, this article enlightens


* Stimulate Critical Thinking/Creativity



Benner and her colleagues' seminal text, Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation, follows the conversational writing style used by other Carnegie Foundation studies of professional education. Past President Schulman's foreword is written in this style, "From my vantage point in the kitchen, I take this occasion to reflect on our studies of nursing education though the lens of all the other studies we conducted."11(p ix) The coauthors integrate a practical style with Benner's12 paradigm case approach to connect with readers using personal pronouns (we, our) and narratives in the form of cases, vignettes, and stories. This style fits their message. The scorecard conveys the relative emphasis placed on polarities in this article:


* Distance/Engage: draws readers closer using personal pronouns


* Enlighten/Entertain: uses paradigm cases to entertain and enlighten


* Stimulate Critical Thinking/Creativity



Two English professors, Berg and Seeber,13 describe a SoTL project in "The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy." Their title is a take-off on the Slow Food Movement, and their scholarly writing style is warmed with a human touch, "In the current global context-in which universities are faced more than ever with justifying their existence-to speak of professors' stress might appear self-indulgent. Indeed, some colleagues have suggested that we stop whining, while others have described our project as brave."13(p3) This style fits the message. This article's scorecard?


* Distance/Engage: draws readers closer using personal pronouns


* Enlighten/Entertain


* Stimulate Critical Thinking/Creativity



Although all 3 articles are written in the practical style, they engage readers through the use of personal pronouns. Only the last 2 use storytelling and narrative to enlighten and entertain as well as to stimulate critical thinking and creativity.


Implications and Action Steps

Is there room in a nursing journal such as NE for a variety of scholarly writing styles? The answer is yes. As evidenced by the foregoing exemplars, a divergence of styles allow for a richer reading experience. Given the split over divergence and standardization, however, a dialogue is needed to explore NE readers', writers', and reviewers' perspectives on scholarly writing styles. Three action steps for sparking such a dialogue follow:


* Make Stylish Academic Writing,2 an exquisitely researched and evidence-based guidebook, required reading for all NE reviewers.


* Poll readers and authors to determine what types of articles, also known as scholarly writing styles, they want to see published in NE.


* Convene reviewers for a dialogue informed by readers' poll findings and by their reading of Stylish Academic Writing2 to surface a shared definition of scholarly writing styles suitable for a journal that publishes both practical application and educational research articles.




The loosening of standardization and trend toward divergence in scholarly writing styles reflects a larger social movement being driven by an Internet that's empowering people across the globe to write with vernacular eloquence.3 Because this trend is as inevitable as it is unstoppable, only 1 question matters. Will NE publish a range of articles with formats that match scholarly writing style and message or enforce a single, standardized definition of style? A definition that will, in all likelihood, cost NE relevance along with readership. This article argues in favor of readers, writers, and reviewers embracing an expanded definition of scholarly writing styles that make for NE articles that are a joy to read, a pleasure to write, and a delight to review.



With gratitude to Drs Kim Belcik, Diane Monsivais, and Leli Pedro for their compassionate critiques.




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