Mountains British Columbia

Keith Johnson, Pixabay

What’s the best trick academics can learn from journalists? Don’t start with what I call the ‘boring background’ — find a ‘hook’ instead. Too often, you only find out why you’re reading an essay or article on the second page, after a page of facts and figures, key dates, broader context, and so on. Academic writing is not journalism but you might still choose to start with a striking fact, key question or core idea. Here’s one from my colleague Heather Dyer: ‘Fifty miles from Victoria, British Columbia, the earth is splitting.’[1] After your reader has been ‘hooked’ you can then retrace your steps to cover how and where and when this question arises. That’s your ‘boring background’ — except it’s not boring any more, because your reader now knows it is there for a reason. And when you return to the core idea, the reader gets that satisfying feeling of looking at it in a new light.


James McConnachie
13 February 2020