Academic writing, disciplines and difference

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I am privileged to work on some very international and interdisciplinary journals. This has brought me into correspondence with a wide range of authors from different academic and geographic backgrounds. Every academic discipline has its own language, even when it is all conducted in English (or any other language). There are specialised vocabularies such that a foray into a new discipline is to enter a new world of language. Here, new words appear, hybridise into new forms, sometimes become verbs rather than nouns and morph into new meanings between disciplinary landscapes.

These words are arranged differently in sentences and across pages. There are distinct patterns to the way articles are structured, and variations in movement in the way arguments are approached and developed, sometimes directly, at others via twists and turns.

I work primarily in the social sciences where common theorists can reappear in different guises, interpreted through slightly different lenses and used to explain a huge range of social phenomena. Some authors are able to grapple directly with these theorists in their own language, others rely on translation and see in part through others’ eyes.

The wide range of the social sciences also means that every article introduces me to strangers, whose words join with familiar writers to open new vistas, to challenge taken-for-granted understanding and bolster more traditional ideas.

These variations occur simply within articles written in English, from those with a similar educational background to my own, but are even more pronounced when articles come from further afield, geographically or academically.

Before turning to academic editing, I had become an expert of sorts in my own small corner of the social sciences. In developing a career alongside – rather than directly in – academia I had thought I might lose knowledge. In some ways my knowledge of current research is not as deep as it would be if I had continued in my research specialisms, but now I relish the very great range of voices, ideas and information that speaks to me from my screen.

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