Episode 10

David D. Perrodin

My dear fellow applied linguistics researcher friends…

At the end of Episode 9, I asked you to stay tuned for the next episode when I would share with you the challenges of the continued flow of topic information within written discourse. So, here we go….

As with all writing, regardless of genre, the focus must be the reader. The author of the text must keep in mind that the reader may not have the same background knowledge as them. So, when composing a written text, the author must begin with common knowledge or ‘given information’ that the reader is likely to know already. Then, the author can later introduce new information and then connect the given information to the new information.

Before I go too far, I think it is important that we understand the basic concept of topic information flow within written discourse. The ‘flow of topic information’ within written discourse describes how the topic of the text sticks together and how this information moves from point to point within clauses, sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, and the entire text.

So, what does the flow of topic information have to do with me as a developing researcher? As novice or developing researchers, we spend countless hours going through piles of academic articles and books about our particular research interest. After digesting hundreds of thousands of words about a topic, it is fitting to believe that we should become more knowledgeable than the average person about that topic. And we are so excited to get our knowledge down on paper that we often forget who we are really writing for.

I remember when I wrote my first academic article for my Ph.D. I asked a friend who has little knowledge in my field of interest to read the article and tell me what he thought. I asked him if he could follow my thought process and follow the flow of topic information within the manuscript. After reading the first chapter, they turned to me and said they had no idea what I was talking about nor where I was going with my arguments.

You see, it was my job as the writer to organize my ideas and the information within the written text so that the reader does not have to make very much effort to follow my arguments or my line of thought. I realized then that the organization of the topic information within clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and so on, is important to reduce the reader’s effort.

In the words of Justice Louis Brandeis, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” Justice Brandies was correct… After a rather lengthy rewriting of my academic article, I presented the new and improved version to my same friend. After they read the first chapter, they were able to give me a very clear synopsis of what I was trying to communicate. Not only were they able to tell me what they thought I was talking about, they were also able to tell me where the direction they thought I was going with my arguments.

You see, a wise person once told me that the more knowledge I gain about my Ph.D. topic, the more capable I will become at making simple things complicated. But that same person told me that I would know when I have reached a new level of maturity in my writing when I can make complicated things simple for the reader to understand.

Stay tuned for the next episode of ‘From the Mind of a Developing Researcher,’ when I will share with you the challenges of putting more of ME in my writing.

My Favorite Publications

  1. Fang, Z. (2021). Demystifying Academic Writing. Routledge.
  2. Starc, S., Jones, C., & Maiorani, A. (Eds.). (2015). Meaning Making in Text: Multimodal and Multilingual Functional Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2012). Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills (3rd ed.). University of Michigan Press ELT.
  4. Watson Todd, R. (2016). Discourse Topics. John Benjamins.
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