Searching for my authoritative voice

I am a writer

(Photo: Ramdlon)

Sometimes I fear I’m going to be discovered as a fraud. Who am I to be writing a blog on community engagement? On what basis do I support other organisations to improve their work? Am I really preparing students for the realities of working in the field? What gives me the authority to speak to other people about how to improve their work?

Finding an authoritative voice when undermined by these doubts can be challenging.

For many years I hesitated to call myself an academic – I still avoid using the title Dr. – and I still find myself undermining my credibility, particularly through jokes. I’m not very ambitious and find it hard to sell myself. I’m a Level B academic and I’m not sure if I will ever seek promotion to a higher level. (In Australia there are five levels – from A to E: Associate lecturer, Lecturer, Senior lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor.) Much of this resistance to a promotion is wanting to limit my income but, to be honest, some of it is self-doubt.

It’s also not easy finding an authoritative voice when academics have rejection in common. All academics have experienced rejection (or will), especially when writing for publication and seeking research grants are major responsibilities of academics. Some journals reject over 80% of the articles they receive and even leading academics have ground breaking research rejected by journals. Likewise, rejection rates for applications to the Australian Research Council can be as high as 84% for major grant rounds.

It takes a thick skin to be a successful academic.

Sometimes I wonder if writing a blog is partly an avoidance mechanism: a way of avoiding rejection and possibly avoiding some of the hard work of writing for publication. I very rarely reject my own blog posts (although it does happen) and so I can write whatever I want. I try to make sure it is reliable and well supported, but it doesn’t go through the peer review process of a journal. I might have a stronger publication record if I put less time in to the blog and more time into writing for scholarly articles.

Of course it isn’t just avoidance. I am mainly interested in writing for students and practitioners and a blog is a better medium for reaching this audience. The blog receives many more views than if I was relying on journal publications.

Although some of my struggle to find an authoritative voice is due to a lack of confidence, some of it also relates to my approach to writing and a commitment to being open and honest. I don’t want to overstate my expertise or experience, and thus hesitate to adopt some of the practices that are suggested as ways of helping to develop and authoritative voice.

There is real value in the way academics are trained to acknowledge exceptions and to avoid emphatic statements. Take for example the advice given to students by Monash University.

In academic writing, we tend to avoid making categorical or emphatic statements. This is in order to:

  • Acknowledge that there may be exceptions
  • Acknowledge that there may be a range of possible causes or explanations
  • Avoid making statements that cannot adequately be supported or defended.

It is therefore often wise to:

  • Qualify your ideas
  • Explain your ideas
  • Explore your ideas.

Some ways we avoid making emphatic statements:

  • Referral to tendencies
  • Using qualifiers and quantifiers
  • Acknowledging exceptions and limitations.

There can be a tension between finding an authoritative voice and observing these types of conventions. Some advice for developing an authoritative voice, encourages emphatic statements regardless. For example, Rose Mathews, suggests that:

“It is my opinion that the Bears will win the game” doesn’t have the authority of “The Bears will win the game.”

Adding, “It is my opinion” certainly weakens the statement, but we can’t be sure “The Bears will win the game” is accurate. We can’t predict the future so we can’t be totally confident that the Bears (whoever they are) will win. Many people stated confidently that Clinton would win the US election – and were proved wrong. A qualifier is needed for accuracy. “The Bears should win the game” or “Bar the unexpected, the Bears will win the game” allow for an unexpected upset.

Bloggers are sometimes encouraged to tell stories in order to help create authoritative content. Academic integrity, however, means that we need to acknowledge our sources. I sometimes hear renowned speakers telling a story about an event in a way that sounds like they were directly involved even though it is actually somebody else’s story. This is a form of plagiarism and is inappropriate, and I don’t won’t to adopt this approach. There are ways of telling stories that give due credit, but some of the stories I would like to tell are not just my own to share.

This year I’m searching for an authoritative voice that sits comfortably with my approach and academic training. Even though I’m not all that ambitious, I am committed to the blog, I do want to find a more authoritative voice and I hope to help change policy and practice.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Why I blog
  2. Blogging as an academic
  3. 7 principles guiding my work
  4. My top posts for 2016
  5. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  6. What are authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative parenting styles?

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Being an academic and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Searching for my authoritative voice

  1. Sheryl says:

    Very though provoking post. Blogging is interesting, I often have people asking what to blog about or should my blog be like somebody else’s. I say no, write who you are and what you know. Otherwise you’re just writing somebody else’s blog for them with your name. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post! Equally valid for me in an outreach role as a potential investor in a communities ideas, a pretty powerful role, taking decisions on where is best to invest? Whilst our aspiration is to address the issues that local people and communities say matter most, with the aim to support the best placed organisation working with local skills and talents aiming for maximising impact. BUT we too are human and worry also about getting it wrong. My personal view is perhaps not to be too worried, particularly if climbing the promotion train is not for you or others, after all what we get wrong is all learning. Perhaps we should all lose the fear of systems and controls, stay true to ourselves and the folks we listen too and keep doing what we are doing!

    Liked by 2 people

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