Much of the writing I’ve done in the past few years has been for academic essays in school. These pieces seem to have a fundamental contradiction: I write about subjects that in all honesty I know hardly anything about as if I’m an expert researcher. I understand that this style of writing is useful in a class setting because it allows students to demonstrate their knowledge to professors. But it seems totally useless for anything other than that. Who wants to read dense, formal writing by an author who doesn’t have the expertise to say anything trustworthy and substantial?
I’ve engaged with and learned about a lot technical subject matter over the course of this semester: mapping software, health disparities, socioeconomic inequality, and academic research on urban accessibility, among other things. Although all of this has been really interesting, I don’t feel like I have the same authority as the professionals to make arguments about ideas in these fields.
A solution to this problem is to reorient the essay to be about my journey as a lay-person, seeking to learn about the subject matter. Since this is a new perspective for me to write from, I’ve been studying models in science journalism to see how other writers assume this voice. One idea is to lay out a premise and say something like, “So I decided to find out more…” and jump into a conversation with an expert, letting them use their authority to talk about the ideas. Although it’s uncomfortable to break out of my old habits, I think that this project will be a good opportunity to become more versatile as a writer.