1b- Identifying with Ethnographic Writing

Actually, the truth is that regardless of your past success, every student who engages with their ethnographic project in an earnest, enthusiastic and ethical way will experience the excitement of original research.  Even more, the writing you’ll do, that the process you’ll engage in won’t be wholly unfamiliar to you.  Despite the claims that this kind of work will be “new” to you, it is most likely that you already have some experience with ethnographic writing.  If you’ve ever been asked to describe a scene, to write using dialogue, to write about your past, to write about your feelings, to write to summarize, to inform, or suggest, or persuade, you already have many of the skills you can draw on in order to write for this essay.  If you use email, IM, participate on Facebook, watch YouTube, or Twitter, you have been gathering and experiencing with certain rhetorical strategies of the vernacular in online settings.  If you have ever spent any time in a public space—a beach, the mall, a bar—“people-watching,” you’ve already got an idea of what it means to make observations that could be translated on paper.  This course will not be about teaching you about writing and researching from a point of not knowing anything.  Rather, you will be strategically calling upon skills you may already have in conjunction with those you will learn in order to further translate your entering knowledge into something different and more complete.

To this end, it’s not a bad idea to get in touch with writing experience that may take you back to your experience with writing in grade school. Regardless of the preparedness of the student, whether each student is capable of writing a solid, clear summary, they at least know what is meant by the idea of a summary.  Likewise, the notion of report writing—informing the reader—is usually understood as a respected quality of academic writing.  What is usually lost somewhere between fourth and tenth grade is the importance of creativity and style in writing. Creative writing does not necessarily mean fiction. Style does not simply refer to the notion of vocabulary and word choice, though these are always relevant to the writing process. Creativity and style invoke the same impulse that produces a joke, that guides your spontaneity, and inspires your clothing choice.  These things are about getting in touch with the way in which you already have mastery of words and ideas, the ways in which you manipulate and use language in your everyday, personal lives.

Because students in high school are often asked to focus on objectivity rather than on creativity in their “academic” writing, it is important to reconnect with your own history with creative writing.  The following questions can help you recall your own understanding of and relationship with creative writing:

  • When’s the last time you were asked to produce creative writing?
  • In your opinion, what counts as creative writing?
  • What was it like for you to produce creative writing?
  • What sorts of things did you choose to write about?

In reconnecting with creativity in writing—wherever it may have entered your experience—you will be better able to allow yourself to speak using vernacular, to make use of dialogue as an organizational strategy, to write interesting and evocative prose.  Spend some time thinking about what it means for you to write creatively.  It is in this creativity, through the experiential, that your ethnographic project will assume more familiarity.  The familiarity of academic skills—summarizing and the like—is important, but it will be the creativity you employ in your writing, the ways that you work to evoke connection with the reader that will interest and involve you the most in your own writing.  Explore creativity in your writing and in doing so your interest in and ability to produce prose will increase most dramatically.  Such introspection may also trigger in genuine pleasure in the work of writing.