What Constitutes Good Writing in Political Science? Disciplinary and Student Perspectives on Use of the Active Voice
17 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 18, 2011
While political science instructors commonly emphasize the importance of effective writing, the standards for what good writing entails may be less apparent to students, especially undergraduates. A notable example is the appropriate use of voice in academic writing.
Research has shown that academic writers, including political scientists, often believe it is appropriate to use the pronoun “I” for a variety of rhetorical purposes including promoting the active voice, establishing the author’s identity, making work easier to read, and specifying the author’s contribution to the field. Yet the literature also suggests that students may not share such views.
We opted to examine this topic in more depth by conducting a survey of political science undergraduate students at a large comprehensive university regarding the effectiveness of alternative journal abstracts. While respondents were divided in their evaluations, the majority favored an abstract written in the passive voice without the pronoun “I” over the (non-attributed) abstract published in the American Political Science Review that used “I.” Students commonly mentioned the inappropriateness of the personal pronoun as the reason for this judgment. We close by considering the implications for teaching about writing in political science.
Keywords: political science education, writing in the discipline, active and passive voice
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