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Can Academic Writing ever Be Creative?

How many of you think academic writing can ever be creative?

To answer this, I went straight to an expert on the topic, who not only has the answer but has a writing tool to help you. Dr. Lindy Ledohowski is the CEO of EssayJack (acquired by Wize). Today, she’s giving you the information you need to get creative with non-fiction.

For those of you who’ve asked me if Fictionary works on non-fiction, here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for. EssayJack is to non-fiction what Fictionary StoryTeller is to fiction.

Incorporating Narrative and Description into Academic Writing

by Dr. Lindy Ledohowski

Often when academic writers put their pen to paper–or their fingers to the keyboard–what they write is dry and, well, academic.

Their writing is filled with technical jargon and impressive research. They advance a position with scholarly acumen. They convince you with the confidence they deploy as they navigate the complexities of their field.

Academic writing is often referred to as critical writing, because it involves key critical thinking skills.

Is there room for creativity in this kind of writing? If so, where and how?

These are questions that I’ve worked to navigate through for years, and I have a few pointers.

The first and easy answer is that YES academic writing can be creative as well.

But now let’s narrow that broad claim down into some ideas that actually work in a practical way. After all, academic writers are often working to meet the expectations set by scholarly presses and journals, and the conventions set by these external publishing bodies often do not allow for a great degree of flexibility.

However, both descriptive and narrative components have important roles to play in academic writing and are profoundly creative at their core.

Descriptive Writing:

Often student writers are tasked with writing a descriptive essay, which is one form of descriptive writing. A descriptive essay is a simple form of exposition that describes something.

Once academic writers move beyond the classroom, these descriptive components are rarely completed essays unto themselves; instead, description becomes a component part of a larger piece of writing.

Where? How?

Clear, well-written descriptive prose that relies on sensory details to create the scene in the reader’s mind often finds expression in the following ways:

  • If a scholarly paper’s main purpose is to outline and explain the results of an experiment, then it is important to describe that experiment properly. Key descriptive tools from your writerly tool kit will work here. How many people were involved? What was the scope of the experiment? What are the details? These are all questions that need answering in this descriptive section.

  • Sometimes a section of a research project – an article, thesis, or dissertation – needs to provide some specific background information where the field of research itself must be described. What have researchers said about the topic? Are there various schools of thought? Are there debates in the field? These are the types of questions that you will want to describe in detail before working through your own analysis.

  • If the research is ethnographic or in various other qualitative fields, then describing the context – be it the culture, the classroom, the setting, etc. – are key to the success of the presentation of this kind of research. Ethnographic methdology involves looking at people in their cultural setting, with the goal of producing a narrative account of that particular culture, against a theoretical backdrop. A subset of this standard research type involves participant observation where the researcher is embedded within the particular culture, and the reporting of the findings are specifically descriptive and narrative in scope. By definition, this type of research presentation is descriptive.

Narrative Writing:

Very often student writers–especially at the secondary level–are asked to write narrative essays. A narrative essay is like any other narrative; it tells a story.

Narrative components have important roles to play in academic writing.

Where? How?

Narrative research is a methodology unto itself in a variety of fields in which the subjects of the research tell their own stories in their own voices. As a scholar writing in this vein, it is important to capture the narrative in a way that creates the appropriate story arc for your reader.

For example:

  • In writing an ethnographic study, often the description of the group being studied is as important as the narrative of a series of events in order to paint a realistic picture of the group being observed. As a narrative piece of academic prose, it is important to capture all the standard narrative components to create a beginning, middle, and end to your research observations.

  • Often in educational fields, narrative reporting is used in order to capture the real life experiences of qualitative findings on class performance. Whatever it is as an educational research that you are studying, often you’ll create a narrative that is like a “day in the life” of your classroom, in which case you want to anonymise your students as participants in your research, yet nonetheless create of them “characters” to illuminate the situation as you describe it.

  • Narrative components often form the basis of summaries when it comes to historical research. In order to analyse the historical facts or data that your research will bring forward, you’ll want to make sure that you tell the story of the historical event in a way that not only captures the attention of your reader, but also highlights the points of the event that will be of interest to the remainder of your analysis.


In these contexts–both descriptive and narrative–the demands on the academic writer are that they behave as a creative writer.

The writer must use their creative talents in order to set the scene, describe the details, and provide a satisfying narrative arc for the reader.

Therefore, to say that a critical or academic writer is not a creative writer is to do a disservice to the many acts of creativity that lie at the core of so much of what many academics do as writers.

I’ve written elsewhere:

“Just as a poet demonstrates his or her mastery over the sonnet form by working within the confines of that structure, an essayist truly shows his or her powers over the craft of writing by demonstrating mastery within the form of the essay.

In this way, essay writing templates do not stifle creativity, but rather they set the parameters within with the writer can play and demonstrate creativity.”

So as an academic writer, I say to you: BE CREATIVE!

Who is Lindy Ledohowski?

Dr. Lindy LedohowskiDr. Lindy Ledohowski (B.A., B.Ed., M.A., Ph.D.) is an award winning educator, scholar, researcher, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a former high school English teacher and English professor from Canada. Currently she is the CEO of EssayJack Inc., an online literacy platform for academic writing that she co-founded.

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