Research Writing and Storytelling

The question of good research writing is honestly a difficult one for me. I’ve read some amazing books over the past few years, and I love thinking about writing and what I enjoy in writing, but my interest is, always has been, primarily in stories and storytelling. Of course, it can be argued that good research writing should be exactly that: a very clear, very factual form a storytelling. To guide your reader through the stages of your research in such a manner that they are easily able to follow your line of thought and understand how you came to the conclusions you did is, in essence, to tell the story of your research. And although most style guides argue for the most minimal personal insertions possible, I do find myself more drawn to research writing that does the precise opposite of that, such as Kristen Luker’s book.

I’ve spent most of this year reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and have been continually struck by how well he understood the world and the people around him. It’s obvious that he did a significant amount of research in order to tell this story as truthfully as a work of fiction can be told, and the quality of his writing is such that a three chapter aside on the history of the Parisian sewers at a point of especially high tension and emotion is completely fascinating, instead of frustrating and dreary. He wished to make a point about 19th Century French society, or even the society of 19th Century Europe as a whole, and to do so he covered as many angles of that society as he could, to allow the readers as complete a picture as possible.

This, I suppose, is the problem with my own writing, especially my research writing. Like Victor Hugo, I am not good at being concise, and, again like Victor Hugo, I have the tendency to want to share every detail of what I have found, and to turn my research into something all-encompassing, something that covers every aspect of my topic. Research, as we are taught to do it, is not really supposed to be a full picture, but more of a very precise and very detailed fragment of the complete piece, or even just a different perspective on the picture itself, and that is what I am going to be keeping in mind as I write (and edit, and then edit again) my own research.

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