Monday, May 29, 2017

[Yasmin_discussions] Writing Across Disciplines

Dear Živa,

You raised a profound issue the other day.


> For that
> zone in between where no manuals apply and where categories of artistic vs.
> scientific research melt down. For the transdisciplinary zone we were
> approaching just before you changed the time zone (no pun intended). Any
> suggestions?


While I'm still thinking about a serious reply, I do have a couple preliminary thoughts. In 2013, I gave a keynote at the Creativity and Cognition conference in Sydney, Australia, titled The Challenge of Interdisciplinary Research.

Looking at the PowerPoint deck reminds me of just how thin a medium PowerPoint can be — there were a couple of slides that contain a few words only. These were the headline words for central and delicate parts of the talk. In contrast, several slides contain complete quotes and references — they are complete because someone else wrote them and I could read them aloud. Still, this is better than nothing, and it will give you an idea of how I have been thinking.

Rather than get into the discussion of differences between the interdisciplinary and the transdisciplinary, I'll simply say that there are some key distinctions to be made between work within a discipline and work that pushes out over the boundaries of more than one discipline.

In discussing manuals such as Strunk and White's (1999) Elements of Style or Helen Sword's (2012) Stylish Academic Writing, I note that these authors discuss how to express ideas clearly. This enables readers to understand a writer. The advice in manuals such as these applies to all research writing, even to the transdisciplinary fields where categories of research melt down.

Before asking how we can write across the boundaries of disciplines, it helps to reflect on how writing shapes — and reshapes — the established disciplines. There are several useful books that allow us to do this.

Jonathan Monroe's (2002) Writing and Revising the Disciplines looks at different issues from the viewpoint of leading scholars and scientists in physics, chemistry, science and technology studies, government, sociology, law, English, history, and classics. You will be especially interested in the article by Roald Hoffmann (2002), a Nobel laureate whose article is titled "Writing (and Drawing) Chemistry." Hoffmann argues that it is impossible to write up chemical research without drawing — perhaps a hint at some of the multiple skills you are asking about in art-science.

In Works and Lives. The Anthropologist as Author, Clifford Geertz (1988) shows how key anthropological authors shaped their voice and helped to shape the discipline of anthropology in doing so.

In a different vein, Gordon Wood's (2008) The Purpose of the Past. Reflections on the Uses of History examines writing history through the lens of a brilliant historian's book reviews.

Helen Sword's (2017) new book also seems quite promising — Air & Light & Time & Space. How Successful Academics Write. I have not read it. I've only seen information about it, but I've ordered a copy and I can suggest Sword's work to anyone interested in writing research.

Full references appear at the end of this note.

I will give this issue further thought, and return after a while if I have some productive ideas.



Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia

Email | Academia | D&I


Geertz, Clifford. 1988. Works and Lives. The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Hoffmann, Roald. 2002. "Writing (and Drawing) Chemistry." Writing and Revising the Disciplines. Jonathan Monroe, ed. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 29-53

Monroe, Jonathan, ed. 2002. Writing and Revising the Disciplines. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Strunk, William, and E B White. 1999. The Elements of Style. 4th Edition. Harlow, Essex: Longman Publishing.

Sword, Helen. 2012. Stylish Academic Writing. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Sword, Helen. 2017. Air & Light & Time & Space. How Successful Academics Write. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Wood, Gordon S. 2008. The Purpose of the Past. Reflections on the Uses of History. New York: Penguin Books.

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