I love playing with metaphors. Comparing two seemingly incomparable things helps to visualize the situation and create a memorable image. This is a powerful cognitive tool that fosters our understanding of a phenomenon while identifying its core and details.

I decided to ponder over writing a research article for publication in metaphorical terms and explore a range of occupations* the author has to take up. It seems that the writer juggles lots of things at the same time. S/he is like Shiva, “creating, destroying, protecting,” and sharing the knowledge of the universe.

Shiva or Mahadeva is one of the principal deities in Hinduism.

Dancer

Ok, let’s start. To me, writing for publication resembles dancing a tango. Both writing and dancing are social activities; both require well-coordinated partnership; both tell stories; both display certain conventions, expectations, and mechanics.

The author-dancer needs a partner — the reader — both of whom are familiar with the framework, i.e. basic dance pattern, moves and steps. If the writer-dancer changes the mechanics of the dance, the reader-partner stops following the writer’s moves, and, consequently, the dance falls apart — thumbs down, a rejection, no citations …

However, the frameworks of both writing and tango dancing allow flexibility. The tango’s frame, abrazoor, is not rigid so that dancers can adjust their movements to match the music or feelings. Dancers show their personalities. So do writers. Their voices should be clearly heard. Although “they say/I say” pattern is common for the article genre, the IMRaD frame is not the only one, and the required writing styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) vary from journal to journal, from discipline to discipline.

The milonguero style is characterized by a very close embrace, small steps, and syncopated rhythmic footwork. In contrast, the tango that originated in the family clubs of the suburban neighborhoods […] emphasizes long elegant steps, and complex figures. […] For stage purposes, the embrace is often open, and the complex footwork is augmented with gymnastic lifts, kicks, and drops.”

Both writing for publication and dancing are competitive activities. To perform well and stand out from the crowd, one needs to find a suitable dancing contest — the journal the scope of which lets the writer demonstrate his/her talents and experience.

Hunter (not poacher!)

While preparing for the contest, the dancer transforms into the hunter and browses databases for a suitable target — the journal that might be interested in the writer’s research results. The writer-hunter is busy: seminal papers in the field should be captured, and articles on the research topic should be trapped. The chase for sources may take quite a long time, but tirelessness is a typical feature of the writer-hunter. Needless to mention that poaching, i.e. illegal hunting, is prohibited. Writers should exhibit ethical behavior and avoid all types of academic dishonesty, for example, plagiarism, fabrication, or misinterpretation.

Librarian

Having found the target journal and relevant sources, the author does a librarian’s job: s/he stores the literature on the topic, annotates the sources, organizes them in a certain way, being meticulous about references. S/he prepares the foundation for a literature review.

Architect

Then the author takes up the role of an architect. Both the writer and the architect plan and design a blueprint for a future building (= article), locating the building to fit the surroundings (= entering the discussion of the community). They have similar aims: to make the building original, useful, and efficient.

Artist

Having done a preliminary sketch, the writer-artist starts painting the image (=article). No matter what art school they belong to, they strive for having their say, better in such a way that touches the minds and souls of their admirers. The personal style is important as well as the clarity of expression.

Navigator

The themes of some paintings are not clear at a glance; they may need the services of a navigator for the writing/reading journey (=narration). The author has to take the reader by hand and show the direction in which the vehicle is traveling so that the reader can keep afloat, gliding over the argumentation flow smoothly. It is the writer who knows the road well, and s/he should signpost each curve to help the reader-traveller to enjoy the journey.

Cook

The writer can be compared to a cook, too. S/he knows all the ingredients of his/her dish (= research). If asked for a recipe, the cook can carefully describe a step-by-step procedure of cooking. The cook-writer slices the text into paragraphs and sections, puts the information layer by layer, trims the layers, adds flavor to the dish, and pepper it with punctuation. The dish is almost ready, and the reader can be invited to taste the culinary masterpiece.

Sweeper

Before serving the dish, the writer performs the role of a decorator and a sweeper at the same time. It is hard to find a balance between beautifying the text with explicit evidence and cleaning it up to delete unnecessary details, the roughness of style, ambiguity, and wordiness. S/he also wipes off the grit of grammar and spelling errors, pulps pointless passages and fragments, making sure that the meaning is transparent and crystal clear.

Salesperson

The writer aims to find his/her customers. And s/he has to serve as a salesperson, persuading the gatekeepers (= editors and reviewers) to publish the article. Creating an effective title, writing an informative abstract, and selecting efficient keywords are some of the successful strategies that can lead to selling the product so that it is consumed and discussed in the community. The cover letter to the journal is similar to advertising goods, when the author highlights his/her contribution to the existing bulk of knowledge and boasts the novelty and unique features of the product. Sometimes it’s not possible at one go, and the process undergoes several rounds.

Celebrity

If the author succeeds, s/he becomes known in his / her research community. One must be prepared to pay the price: his/her quotes are reprinted; the invitations to collaborate are sent… But the fame can’t rest on a single publication. The metaphorical cycle starts again and again.

Of course, this list of metaphors is not exhaustive. Can you think of more metaphors? Don’t hesitate to add them in the comments box.

There are several types of writers (see more about the types of writers in Grammarly blog):

  • the meticulous plotter, who always starts with an outline
  • the spontaneous scripter, who’s driven by inspiration and takes notes anytime at any place
  • the ideas generator, who’s to find his/her path through the trinket of half-baked ideas
  • the procrastinator, whose major motivator is the deadline, which can urge them to start writing
  • the modest mouse, a tireless writer, who has no belief in his/her achievements
  • the escape artist, who uses writing as a cave to hide and daydream there.

Have you recognized yourself?

By Svetlana Suchkova, PhD
Director of Academic Writing Center at NRU HSE

The Academic Writing Center at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, provides writing support to everyone involved in research.

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