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This article explores how three writers in ecology understand and enact a disciplinary writing style. To accomplish this, it draws on theoretical approaches to style from sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, as well as analyses of drafts of coauthored texts and video-recorded literacy history and discourse-based interviews. This study finds that metaphor and embodied actions such as gestures are valuable sites for comparing writers’ stylistic understandings and practices. The three writers expressed broad agreement when describing the qualities of good scientific writing, using similar verbal and gestural metaphors, such as Communication as Journey and entailments of the Conduit Metaphor. Yet in discourse-based interviews, specific stylistic choices provoked conflicting preferences not only between writers but even within them over time, as they sometimes changed their minds about what they had preferred over a year earlier. These conflicting and changing views, and the writers’ arguments for them, complicate popular notions of writing style: that a particular discipline has a style uniformly shared among experts and that experts’ mastery of their own style is stable and absolute. The finding that stylistic disagreements are undergirded by similar metaphors in language and gesture highlights the ways our stylistic understandings are tied to life histories and are also deeply embodied. Working from a sociocultural perspective, I provide a richer, more complex empirical and theoretical understanding of what it means to command a particular disciplinary style.


Copyright 2014 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.

Original Publication Information

Olinger, Andrea R. "On the Instability of Disciplinary Style: Common and Conflicting Metaphors and Practices in Text, Talk, and Gesture." 2014. Research in the Teaching of English 48(4): 453-478.