Identify an event in your childhood that was important to you. When you have decided on this, write one or two paragraphs about it, indicating what happened and how it was important. Imagine that you are writing for a friendly fellow student or tutor. Note that we are asking you to write briefly on a subject that could be a lengthy piece of work tackled in many different ways. If you can, carry out this activity with another student and discuss each other's writing.
When you have finished, read over what you have written and note how often you have used 'I'. Can you say from this piece what the 'I' character is like and what he or she seems to be doing in the account?
Does the 'I' character seem to identify with the child or an adult looking on at the child?
Can you identify features of the writing that show that it is 'personal'?
Compare what you note with the table below and keep this piece of writing in mind as you look at the readings below.
The following table sets out some of the major differences we suggest that you might find between 'personal' and 'academic' writing. Keep this in mind as you work on the activity related to the passages below.
Personal writing Academic writing
Recounts, tells a personal story Comments, evaluates, analyses
Non-technical vocabulary Subject-specific vocabulary
'I' at the centre of the story 'I' as the observer and commentator
Information comes from the writer's Information comes from a range of sources, and experience refers to what others say
Personal feelings and views Evidence and argument
Conventions of referencing and citing to acknowledge others' work
We now move on to illustrate what we have been saying about the writer's place in their writing. In the following activity and commentary we ask you to think about three different extracts from readings. We have chosen these particular passages because they show how there are both differences and similarities between what we are calling 'personal' and 'academic' writing, and in order to give you an idea of ways in which you can move between these different kinds of writing. We will suggest that there is more of a continuum than a complete break between personal and academic writing and that there are various different ways for you to 'own' your university writing. The three passages below are all related to the topic of the family and are all written by women. The first is a 'personal' piece of writing which recounts an event in the writer's childhood, while the other two are different kinds of academic writing.
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