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How to Use Personal Experience in Research Paper or Essay

How to Use Personal Experience in Research Paper or Essay

Personal Experience In Research Writing

Personal Experience In Research Writing

Personal experience in academic writing involves using things that you know based on your personal encounter to write your research paper.

One should avoid using personal experience to write an academic paper unless instructed to do so. Suppose you do so, then you should never cite yourself on the reference page.

can i use personal experience in a research paper

Some instructions may prompt you to write an essay based on personal experience. Such instances may compel you to write from your personal knowledge as an account for your past encounters over the same topic.

Can you Use Personal Experience in an Essay?

In most of the essays and papers that people write, it is highly recommended that one avoids the use of first-person language. In our guide to writing good essays , we explained that the third person is preferred for academic work.

However, it can be used when doing personal stories or experiences. But can is it possible?

sharing an experience

In practice, you can use personal experience in an essay if it is a personal narrative essay or it adds value to the paper by supporting the arguments.

Also, you can use your personal experience to write your academic paper as long as you are writing anything that is relevant to your research.

The only harm about such an essay is that your experience might sound biased because you will be only covering one side of the story based on your perception of the subject.

Students can use the personal story well through a catchy introduction.

Inquire from the instructor to offer you more directions about the topic. However, write something that you can remember as long as you have rich facts about it.

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How to Use Personal Experience in a Research Paper

When you are crafting your easy using your personal experience,   ensure you use the first-person narrative. Such a story includes the experiences you had with books, situations, and people.

For you to write such a story well, you should find a great topic. That includes thinking of the events in your life encounters that can make a great story.

Furthermore, you should think of an event that ever happened to you. Besides, you can think of special experiences you had with friends, and how the encounter changed your relationship with that specific person.

The right personal experience essay uses emotions to connect with the reader. Such an approach provokes the empathic response. Most significantly, you can use sensory details when describing scenes to connect with your readers well.

Even better, use vivid details and imagery to promote specificity and enhance the picture of the story you are narrating.

Structure of the Essay

example of personal experience essay

Before you begin to write, brainstorm and jot down a few notes. Develop an outline to create the direction of the essay story.

Like other essays, you should use the introduction, the body, and a conclusion. Let your introduction paragraph capture the reader’s attention.

In other words, it should be dramatic. Your essay should allow the audience to know the essence of your point of view.

Let the body of this essay inform the reader with clear pictures of what occurred and how you felt about it.

Let the story flow chronologically or group the facts according to their importance. Use the final paragraph to wrap up and state the key highlights of the story.  

Make it Engaging

The right narrative needs one to use interesting information engagingly. Record yourself narrating the story to assist you in organizing the story engagingly. Furthermore, you are free to use dialogue or anecdotes. For that reason, think about what other people within your story said.

Moreover, you should use transition words for better sentence connections. Again, you should vary the sentence structures to make them more interesting. Make the words as lively and as descriptive as possible.

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The Value of Personal Experience

We use personal experience to connect your artwork with your readers since they are human and they would prefer real stories. You will become more realistic when you describe emotions, feelings, and events that happened to you.

Your wealth of personal experience in a specific field will offer you a great advantage when you want to connect all the facts into a useful story.

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Reinforcing your Writing Skills

Some students may have brilliant ideas and fail to capture them on paper properly. Some seek to write personal issues but also want to remove first-person language from their writing. This is not good.

However, you can sharpen your writing skills in this aspect. One can use the following tips to make your personal research paper readable and more appealing:

improving grammar in essay writing

1. Sharpen grammar

The readability and clarity of your content will rely on grammar.

For that reason, you should polish your spelling, grammar skills, and punctuation daily.

Moreover, you should practice regularly and make the essay more appealing.

2. Expand Vocabulary

It can be helpful if you expand your vocabulary to describe your events successfully. Using better word choice enable the writer to connect with the topic well.

3. Have a Diary

Having a personal diary helps you by boosting your memory about past memorable events. That ensures that you do not lose hold of something important that happened in your past encounter.

4. Systematize it

Make your narration appear systematic to improve the flow. For example, you can divide your experiences in particular importance, emotions, events, people, and so on.

5. Interpret your feelings

It is not a walkover for one to remember every feeling he or she encountered when particular events happened. One should try to analyze and interpret them for better and more effective delivery when writing about personal experiences.

Can you Cite yourself or Personal Experience?

How to cite

You cannot cite yourself or reference your personal experience because it is your own narration and not data, facts, or external information. Ideally, one does not need to cite personal experiences when using any writing style whether APA or MLA.

It will be unprofessional if you cite yourself in your research paper.  Such an experience is your voice which you are bringing to the paper.

Choose the relevant essay based on your essay.

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Instances when to use Personal Experience in a Research Paper

There are many instances when you have to apply personal narrations in an essay. In these instances, the use of first language is important. Let us explore them.

1. Personal essays

You can use personal essays in academic writing to engage readers.  It makes your writing to be credible and authentic because you will be engaging readers with your writing voice. Some stories are better told when given from personal encounters.

The secret lies in choosing the most relevant topic that is exciting and triggers the right emotions and keeps your audience glued to it. You can include some dialogue to make it more engaging and interesting.

2. Required by the instructions

Some situations may prompt your professor to offer students instructions that compel them to write a research paper based on a personal encounter. Here, you have to follow the instructions to the latter for you to deliver and earn a good score well.

One way of winning the heart of your professor is to stick to the given instructions. You should relate your past events with the topic at hand and use it to connect with your readers in an engaging manner.

3. Personal Research Report

When you are doing research that involves your personal encounter, you will have to capture those events that can reveal the theme of your topic well.

Of course, it is an account of your perception concerning what you went through to shape your new understanding of the event.

A personal research report cannot be about someone’s also experience. It states the details of what you encountered while handling the most memorable situations.

4. Ethnography Reports

Such a report is qualitative research where you will immerse yourself in the organization or community and observe their interactions and behavior. The narrator of the story must use his perception to account for particular issues that he may be tackling in the essay.

Ethnography helps the author to give first-hand information about the interactions and behavior of the people in a specific culture.

When you immerse yourself in a particular social environment, you will have more access to the right and authentic information you may fail to get by simply asking.

We use ethnography as a flexible and open method to offer a rich narrative and account for a specific culture. As a researcher, you have to look for facts in that particular community in various settings.

Josh Jasen

When not handling complex essays and academic writing tasks, Josh is busy advising students on how to pass assignments. In spare time, he loves playing football or walking with his dog around the park.

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can i use personal experience in a research paper

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Using Evidence: Common Knowledge & Personal Experience

Common knowledge & personal experience.

Scholarly writing primarily relies on academic research as evidence. However, all writers bring previous knowledge to their writing, and Walden writers in particular might have years of experience in their field that they bring to their classroom writing. How to incorporate common knowledge and professional experience can cause confusion, since incorporating them inappropriately can create unintentional plagiarism .

  • Writing About Common Knowledge & Personal Experience (video transcript)

Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information or ideas that are widely known, accepted, and found in multiple places. Common knowledge is context dependent, meaning that something might be common knowledge to one audience but not another audience. If you are paraphrasing common knowledge , you do not need to cite that statement.

Let us look at a few statements and consider their context to see when they might be considered common knowledge:

Always consider your context and the audience you are writing for when determining whether a statement is common knowledge. Accidentally including a statement without a citation because you think it might be common knowledge can result in unintentional plagiarism . Ask your faculty if you are not sure, as your faculty can help guide you on what your audience is for an assignment and whether a statement is common knowledge for that audience.

Professional Experience

Many Walden students come with years of experience in their field, and you may find yourself writing about and researching topics you have engaged with in the past. The passion for and experience with the topics you are studying is one great advantage Walden students have.

Professional experience can cause a problem when students rely too heavily on their experience with a topic in their scholarly writing. Scholarly writing is meant to be informed by and supported by academic research, and so professional experience should not be the primary evidence you use for your ideas in your scholarly writing.

In fact, relying on professional experience too much or not clarifying when you are using professional experience in your scholarly writing can lead to questions about plagiarism. If you are writing a paper about handwashing practices for nurses, and throughout your paper you do not cite any sources, your faculty my interpret this lack of citations as passive plagiarism : Your faculty may think that you’re using evidence from sources but you just didn’t cite those sources. Although you know these ideas are based on your professional experience, your faculty may not, leading to confusion and possible misunderstandings.

We know that how and when to incorporate professional experience can be confusing if you are new to academic writing, and often students do not realize their approach could cause confusion. To avoid these issues and possible misunderstandings around plagiarism, we recommend three strategies:

  • Use and Cite Evidence : Ensure you are adequately supporting your scholarly writing with academic evidence that is cited.
  • Contextualize Professional Experience: If you do use professional experience to support your ideas, make it clear from context that you are doing so. Use phrasing like, “In my experience as a teacher…” or “I have found in my 10 years at my organization…” . These signal phrases help the reader know that the ideas that follow are based on your professional experience.
  • Contact Your Faculty: Contact your faculty if you are not sure if professional experience is appropriate to use in your assignment or how to do so. Professional experience is more appropriate in some assignments more than others (e.g., a reflection paper versus a literature review). Your faculty can best guide you on how and when to include professional experience.

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11 Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing

Marjorie Stewart

“Warp and Weft” uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for academic writing, it addresses the question of when is it appropriate and how it can be done effectively, focusing on helping writers decide when the use of personal experience is appropriate for their purpose, how to make personal experience and narrative pull its weight in the essay, and how the ability to incorporate personal experience can translate into the ability to incorporate research.

The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experience as well as a how-to guide. “Warp and Weft” contains a discussion of three students who incorporated narrative in their essays in three ways: as a structural frame, as an example when the research topic and personal experience overlap, and as a tool for discovery. Students will benefit from the peer-written examples as well as the use of the personal in the essay itself.

Like many students, I worked my way through college with a retail job. [1] I was luckier than many of my classmates: I found a job at a hip little boutique called Rebecca: A Gallery of Wearable Art in the trendy part of town. We carried many styles of hand-made clothing, jewelry, and accessories, but our most important merchandise was that made by Rebecca herself. Rebecca was a weaver who made hand-woven clothing and scarves. Her loom took up half of the back room and she wove while I waited on customers. When one fabric came off the loom, Anne, the seamstress, would begin to cut and sew while Rebecca set up the loom for the next design. She created her patterns then transferred them into a computer program that told her how to thread the yarn onto the loom to produce the pattern. She threaded the warp, the yarn that runs lengthwise, onto the loom. The weft (formerly known as woof) was placed on bobbins that fed the shuttle. The act of weaving was moving the shuttle with the weft through the warp to create the weave.

So what, you might well ask. So what does this have to do with writing?

Many of you have been taught not to use the word “I” in your academic writing; not to include anything that does not directly relate to that mysterious thing called a “thesis statement;” and not to include anything personal in your writing. The opening of this essay has broken all of those so-called rules – it contains a personal story, told in the first person, that at first glance seems unrelated to the topic of writing. However, in this essay, I – yes, “I” – am here to help you step away from those rules and to use personal stories effectively in your academic writing.

The first consideration is whether using personal narrative is appropriate for your project. My story of working in Rebecca’s shop is useful here – it is intended to attract the attention of the readers and to establish and explain the extended metaphor of weaving. However, if I were writing an essay for my art history class about the evolution of weaving techniques and equipment, my story would seem out of place, as I only have experience with one step in that evolution, and that experience is of an observer rather than a participant.

Your composition professor will likely talk to you about the rhetorical situation of any piece of writing. Stated simply (perhaps too simply), the rhetorical situation – the writer, the audience, and the purpose of the writing – affects the way the message is presented. In my hypothetical art history essay, the narrative would confuse the reader as to the purpose of the project and distract from the actual message of the paper. Often in writing classes it seems that your audience is specifically your professor and secondarily, perhaps, your classmates. Given the essays you will read about in this chapter, imagine the larger audiences that the student writers might have been addressing. Consider carefully whether personal narrative belongs in papers you are writing for history, biology, or business classes.

In addition to your specific rhetorical situation, of course, you should always comply with your professors’ guidelines for each assignment. “No first-person narratives” is a clear statement that personal stories are not appropriate in that classroom.

However, once you have established that your narrative is appropriate for your purpose and audience, what next? It is my purpose to help you incorporate narrative effectively, and to do that, I will use examples from three of my students in a first-year course, a course designed to help writers bridge the gap between high school and college writing. I am also using the example of this essay itself. Consider my story about Rebecca. I am using her weaving, her design of warp and weft, as a metaphor for the kind of writing this essay is going to talk about. I will also use the story as a frame – talking about weaving in the introduction, the conclusion, and perhaps in the transitions.

Personal Story As Frame

Using a personal story as a frame for your essay can be an effective way to draw your reader into your ideas and then to help them reinterpret those ideas in the end. Perhaps, like me, you’re working in a retail job. Perhaps it’s in a big box store instead of my artsy boutique, and you’re wondering if you’d be happier somewhere else, or you’re thinking, please, hand-woven clothing? You sell electronics, important, functional electronics.

Just as I began with the story of my time at Rebecca, Lynn Z. Bloom began a conference presentation with a story from her classroom, and then commented, “Such stories, even brief ones, make us want to hear more, and to tell our own right back. They get us where they live. All writing is personal, whether it sounds that way or not, if the writer has a stake in the work” (1). One of my goals in telling the story of Rebecca is to make you want to hear more, and to make you want to tell your own. The human mind is a giant filing cabinet of stories, and when you hear one, you go to the appropriate file drawer – in this case R for Retail Employment – and pull out your own.

There are many stories in that drawer, however, and it’s important that you choose the right ones. Because my metaphor of writing as weaving is central to my topic, I haven’t included lots of other great stories that came out of my time at Rebecca. I didn’t talk about the great gyros we used to get from Mike and Tony’s across the street, or about how the changing nature of the neighborhood made Rebecca worry whether she had chosen the right location for the store, or about the great artists who came in for trunk shows of their work. I focused on the loom, the weaving. And as the framework for this essay, I consider the story of the loom to be the warp, the yarn threaded on the loom in advance. I will thread my shuttle with the examples of my students’ writing and weave them through.

The first example, Callie Harding’s “The Life of a Choir Director’s Child,” does the opposite. Her topic – the need for better education about religion in America – is the warp, and her childhood stories are woven though to show the reader how this topic became so important to her. Her stories give the readers context and help them connect with her.

Personal Story as Context

Telling a personal story can help your reader understand why you are writing about the topic you have chosen, and why you have come to care so deeply about it. Callie’s childhood experience of travelling from church to church where her parents worked as choir directors gave her an understanding of many religions, and she uses those stories to show how that has helped her be a more compassionate, thoughtful, and sensitive person.

Her paper starts this way:

When I was a child, I didn’t spend much time on playgrounds or with the backyard swing set. I didn’t look forward to dance class or soccer practice every week. Instead, most of my time was spent in the pews of a church with a My Little Pony figure that was weaving its way through a jungle of hymnals and pew Bibles. My playground was a cathedral with the somewhat harmonious voices from the volunteer choir echoing off the stone floor over the magnificent pipe organ. At the front of the choir was either my mother or father . . . Yes, I was the child of choir directors. (Harding 1)

Callie goes on to explain that her family moved from a non-denominational Christian church to a Jewish synagogue; the First Church of Christ, Scientist; a Catholic Church, and finally, a small Lutheran church. “What religion are we?” she asks. This is how she tries to answer her question:

My mother spent a while with the Hindu faith before marrying my father and converting to Mormonism. We are also deeply into our Native American background and practice their cultural and religious ceremonies. Add the fact that we had many friends from many religions and cultures and you can tell that I had one of the most openly religious households on the block. (Harding 1-2)

Callie then moves very nicely into her research on how to encourage religious tolerance through education. She contrasts her experience in a fundamentalist Christian high school to a school district in Modesto, California where all ninth graders take a semester-long world religion course. She writes about the importance of helping all children understand and celebrate diversity of religion and points to her own experiences as an example of the positive effect this has on them. As part of her research, Callie interviewed her mother about her diverse upbringing. While her mother called it a “happy accident,” she also explained to Callie how she stood up to her very Mormon father to make sure Callie and her sister were free to find their own beliefs.

As I was studying Callie’s essay, I took three highlighters and circled each paragraph: pink for Callie’s personal story; yellow for Callie’s presentation and discussion of her research, and green for the information from her interview with her mother. This is the result:

  • Paragraphs 1-3 – Callie’s personal story
  • Paragraphs 4-6 – discussion of research
  • Paragraph 7 – Callie’s story
  • Paragraphs 8-9 – discussion of research
  • Paragraph 10 – Callie’s interview with her mother
  • Paragraph 11 – Callie’s story
  • Paragraph 12 – Callie’s interview with her mother
  • Paragraphs 13-14 – Callie’s personal story

It wasn’t until I did that exercise with the markers that I realized how smoothly Callie had incorporated the three elements of her writing. As I’ve done in this essay, Callie framed her story with the personal. She also used it within the essay to focus and reflect on her research findings. Marking your essay the same way can help you see if you have the right balance between the personal and the more traditionally academic portions of your paper.

While Callie used her personal stories to provide context to the issue of religion in education, she also used her own background to show herself as an example of someone for whom a broad religious education proved beneficial. In “A Life Lost,” student Melynda Goodfellow used her personal story as an example.

Personal Story as Example

Melynda chose to write about teen suicide, certainly an important topic, but one that far too often leads to a patchwork of statistics and distant narratives, more a report than an essay with heart. Sadly, Melynda had reason to care deeply about her topic: her cousin Jared killed himself with an overdose of prescription pain medication.

Melynda started her essay with a simple story of a typical Friday night, getting ready to go the high school football game, where her brother would be playing in the band. This night, however, was special, because her cousin had just moved into town and her boyfriend would be meeting him for the first time. Choosing to open with a typical activity – going to the football game – but giving it special meaning was particularly effective for Melynda. I encourage writers to ask themselves the first Passover question: Why is this night different from all other nights? This is the question asked by the youngest child at the beginning of the Seder to start telling the story of the Passover. It also serves the beginning writer well: If this night, this football game, isn’t special in any way, then it isn’t the story to use in your essay. Melynda’s football game is different from all others because her cousin will be there to meet her boyfriend.

Although the atmosphere is festive, Melynda shows us with foreshadowing that this is not a typical Friday night lights story. She writes that Jared moved because “he wanted to get away from the lifestyle that he was living back home. He wanted a kind of fresh start.” She connects herself to the characters of her brother and her cousin through the band: she had been in band, her brother is performing with the band at the football game, and her cousin is excited about returning to school and joining the band himself. Throughout the narrative part of her essay, Melynda shows Jared as sad and desperate, yet looking forward to his fresh start.

Melynda tells the story in a straightforward, chronological way from the evening of the football game through her cousin’s death and funeral. Her use of personal experience is different from mine and Callie’s because the majority of her paper is that narrative. The structure of her paper is very different: where Callie went back and forth between the story and the research, Melynda began with the story and introduced the research at the end. The first three pages of Melynda’s six-page essay are the story of her friendship with Jared that fall, and how she becomes his confidant. Pages four and five are the story of how she heard of his death. It is only at the end of her essay that she introduces the statistics that show that suicide is “the third leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24” (Goodfellow 6). Her conclusion, shortly after that statistic, reads:

I never in a million years would have thought something like this would happen in my family. I knew that mental health problems run in the family, but I believed everyone knew where to get help. We knew that suicide wasn’t an option and that we had each other if nothing else. As tragic as it may sound, this event brought our whole family back together. Any quarrels or grudges anyone had seemed to dissipate that day. Ironically, one of the things that Jared wanted the most was for the family to just forget their differences and get along. (Goodfellow 9)

This ending refocuses Melynda’s readers on the personal meaning of the impersonal statistic.

In his book Living the Narrative Life: Stories as a Tool for Meaning Making , Gian Pagnucci writes, “I think, actually, that stories can help us get at the truth even if there isn’t a firm truth to be had.” (51) And in Writing to Change the World , Mary Phipher says:

Research shows that storytelling not only engages all of the senses, it triggers activity on both the left and the right sides of the brain . . . . People attend, remember, and are transformed by stories which are meaning-filled units of ideas, the verbal equivalent of mother’s milk. (11)

Melynda works at getting at the true story of her cousin’s death, making meaning of it, even though there is no firm truth or solid meaning to be had there. The truth she arrives at, however, is more powerful than the “just the facts” approach because the story lingers with her readers in a way statistics can’t.

Another thing Melynda does that makes her essay different from mine, and Callie’s, is her inclusion of dialogue. I think she makes especially good use of it in her essay, something that is often difficult for writers at all levels. Here she shows us how she learned of Jared’s death:

“What is it?” I said when I picked the phone up. “It’s about time you answered your phone! I’ve been calling you for over an hour,” my mom said. “Well?” “It’s Jared. He’s in the hospital. He overdosed.” “Oh, my God . . . Is he okay? I’ll be right there. I’m leaving work now.” “No. Don’t come here. There’s nothing you can do. He’s dead.” (Goodfellow 4)

Recreating dialogue can be challenging – a year after her cousin’s death, can Melynda be certain that these were the exact words that she and her mother spoke? Probably not, but she can show her readers the tension in the moment – her mother’s anger that she didn’t pick up, her desire to be with Jared, and her mother’s postponing of the awful news. Dialogue also can be used to pick up the pace of the story – the light look of it on the page helps readers’ eyes move over it quickly, getting a lot of information from a few carefully-chosen words.

There are significant structural differences between Melynda’s essay and Callie’s. Callie’s is split almost evenly between personal experience and research; Melynda’s is about 85% personal story. The third student, Ethelin Ekwa, uses personal story in an even larger portion of her essay, which is entitled “Ethelin Ekwa: An Autobiography.” Although the title might lead you to believe that the essay is only, or just, or simply, personal narrative, Ethelin uses the story of her life to explore her ethnic heritage, her life as a single mother, and her determination to make the most of her artistic and musical talents. She tells the story of her life as a way of understanding her place in the world at the time of the writing.

Personal Story as Discovery

Ethelin’s essay can be seen as an example of Donald M. Murray’ beliefs about writing: “We write to think – to be surprised by what appears on the page; to explore our world with language; to discover meaning that teaches us and may be worth sharing with others …. . . we write to know what we want to say.” (3). Although my students always write multiple drafts of all of their essays, Ethelin wrote more than usual – at least four significant revisions before the final draft that she submitted in her portfolio. She was a frequent visitor at our writers’ center as she worked through the paper. Somewhere in an intermediate draft, she found her frame: a quotation from Ani Difranco’s song “Out of Habit:” “Art is why I get up in the morning.” That idea led her Ethelin to her conclusion: “I cannot imagine a day without the ability to create in unconventional ways” (Ekwa 9). In the eight and a half pages in between, she tells the story of her life.

In Callie and Melynda’s essays, there is a very clear separation between personal experience, research material, and the writers’ commentary on those elements. The weaving, to continue the metaphor, is done in larger blocks of color. Ethelin’s essay has a more subtle pattern. Every paragraph contains some detail of her life – where she was born, who her parents were, where she lived – but also has a reference to her life-long desire to be an artist. She talks about her work as a writer and poet; as a singer and musician; and as a photographer and visual artist.

Ethelin’s background is intriguing – her parents moved from Cameroon, West Africa to France and then to Texas, where she was born, the youngest of five children. She has lived in Europe and Africa, and she went to school in France and Cameroon. Here is how she introduces herself in the second paragraph:

My birth name is Ethelin Ekwa. I am also known as Obsolete by my artist friends and as Krysty by my close personal friends. I am an artist, a mother, a photographer and a lover of all things. I am an American-born citizen with Cameroonian and French origins. I am 30 years old and I currently reside in North Braddock. (Ekwa 1)

Ethelin’s identity is tied to her arts from the very beginning, and every story from her life is wrapped around those arts. When, at 22, she becomes a single mother, her priorities change, but she never gives up: “When I got pregnant, I put singing, painting, and drawing on hold . . . I had more pressing matters to take care of and there just was not time for art” (Ekwa 3). Soon, though, she tells us that she made a new friend who introduced her to digital photography, and by the time her daughter was two years old, she had her own photography business up and running.

While Melynda chose one special night to tell about at the start of her essay, Ethelin chose many events from her life, all of them important, life-changing events. Reading Ethelin’s essay, I can almost see Rebecca’s shuttle flying back and forth across the loom, the turn at each side another event that pulls Ethelin back into the world of art. When the weaver turns the shuttle at the edge of the warp, the weft creates a finished edge that prevents the fabric from fraying or unraveling called a selvage. The turns in Ethelin’s story create a sense that her life, which is sometimes unplanned and chaotic, still has something that keeps it from unraveling, and that something is her artistic nature.

Tying Up Loose Ends

The examples from my students’ essays can help you understand how to use personal experience in your academic writing. But how do you know when to use it? When is it acceptable and appropriate? Gian Pagnucci asserts, “Narrative ideology is built on a trust in confusion, a letting go of certainty and clarity that can ultimately lead to understanding” (53); that stories have a “piercing clarity” (17), and that “the drive to narrate experience is, if not instinctive, then at the very least quintessentially human” (41). He also warns that the academic world is not always welcoming of personal experience. I know many of my colleagues are not willing to trust in confusion – their entire careers, and even their lives, have been built on the quest for knowledge and certainty.

If your composition professor has asked you to read this chapter, it’s a pretty safe bet that you may use personal experiences in your writing for that class. Even in that setting, however, there are times when it is more effective than others. Using the examples of the essays I’ve quoted from and the guidelines given in the beginning of this chapter, here are some tips on when to use your personal experience in your essays:

  • When, like Callie and Melynda, your experiences have inspired a passionate opinion on your topic
  • When, like Ethelin, your personal experiences constantly point back to your central idea
  • When, like me, your personal experiences provide a strong and extended metaphor for your subject
  • When, like all of the writers, your personal experience provides a structure or framework for your essay

The expression “tying up the loose ends” comes from weaving and other fabric arts. When the yarn in the shuttle is changed, the new yarn is tied to the old at the selvage. Those threads are later woven into the fabric so that they don’t show, and so that the connection is tight. When your rough draft is done, it’s time to take the fabric off the loom and make sure your weave is tight. At that point, ask yourself these questions to be sure you are using your experience appropriately and effectively in your essay:

  • What percentage of your essay is personal experience, and how does that match up with the nature of the assignment? Callie’s essay was written in response to an assignment that required more research than the one Ethelin was responding to, so it included less personal writing.
  • Have you included only the personal stories that directly relate to your topic, your attitude towards your topic, or your controlling idea?
  • Are your selvages tight? Do the moves you make between personal story and research and analysis make sense, or is the fabric of your essay likely to unravel?
  • Is the resulting pattern appropriate to your project? Are you working in large blocks of color, like Callie and Melynda, or the subtler tweed of Ethelin’s essay?

I started this essay in Rebecca’s shop and tried to weave the metaphor inspired there through this essay. In the process, I realized another advantage to using personal stories in academic writing: I hadn’t thought about Rebecca and Anne, about Mike and Tony’s gyros, about the bright creative atmosphere in the gallery and in the neighborhood for a long time. Accessing those stories from the filing cabinet in my brain was inspirational. My stories from Rebecca are mostly fun or funny. Your stories, like mine and the writers quoted here, are a mix of light and dark, funny and serious. I encourage you to open the file cabinet and find the stories that will make your readers remember similar times.

Works Cited

Bloom, Lynn Z. “That Way Be Monsters: Myths and Bugaboos about Teaching Personal Writing.” CCCC 51st Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN, Apr. 2000.

DiFranco, Ani. “Out of Habit.” Ani DiFranco , Righteous Babe Records, 1990. Ekwa, Ethelin. “Ethelin Ekwa: An Autobiography.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Goodfellow, Melynda. “A Life Lost.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Harding, Callie. “The Life of a Choir Director’s Child.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Murray, Donald M. A Writer Teaches Writing . Rev. 2nd ed. Cengage, 2003.

Pagnucci, Gian. Living the Narrative Life: Stories as a Tool for Meaning Making . Heinemann, 2004.

Pipher, Mary. Writing to Change the World . Riverhead Books, 2006.

Teacher Resources for Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing by Marjorie Stewart

Overview and teaching strategies.

This essay is useful for faculty teaching the research-based essays that are frequently the concentration in a second semester composition course in a two-term first year writing sequence. Instructors who encourage a personal connection to the research topic will find this essay helpful in guiding students as to when and how they might use their personal narratives in their academic research essays.

The questions below are designed to stimulate discussion and to move students from thinking academically about this genre to delving into their own lives for experiences they are inspired to research and learn more.

Often the attitude towards personal narrative, held by teachers and students alike, is that it is a beginning genre and an ice breaker that is designed as a stepping stone to real or more important ways of writing. This essay instead subscribes to the theory that personal narrative is, as Gian Pagnucci says, “if not instinctive, then at the very least quintessentially human” (41). My experience working with students on this kind of essay is that they are eager to both tell their own stories and to research the issues that inform those stories.

  • Marjorie Stewart claims that our minds are filing cabinets of stories. Do her stories, or the stories of her students, remind you of stories of your own? How does this chain of stories help us make sense of our experiences?
  • Has there ever been a time when you wanted to include personal experience in a writing project but were discouraged or forbidden to by an instructor? Why did you feel the story was important? What might have motivated the instructor?
  • Are their personal stories you are eager to include in an essay? What about stories that you would be uneasy revealing? How do you, and how do other writers, decide which stories they wish to share?
  • Work with an essay, either assigned in class or one you are familiar with in which the author uses personal experience. Compare it to an article on the same topic with no personal writing. Which do your respond to more, and why? Does the personal writing help you understand the writer, or does it get in the way of your intellectual understanding of the topic?

Essay Resources

If you have a favorite example of a well-mixed narrative research essay, by all means, use it. If you are using a book with good examples, you might assign one as companion reading to “Warp and Weft.” I also recommend many essays published as creative nonfiction, especially those from The Creative Nonfiction Foundation, at creativenonfiction.org. One of my favorites is “Rachel at Work: Enclosed, A Mother’s Report” by Jane Bernstein, published in Creative Nonfiction and anthologized in their collection True Stories, Well Told .

  • This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) and are subject to the Writing Spaces Terms of Use. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ , email [email protected] , or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA. To view the Writing Spaces Terms of Use, visit http://writingspaces.org/terms-of-use . ↵

Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing Copyright © 2020 by Marjorie Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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1 Introduction

How do we know what we know, and how is that knowledge valued? Why is some knowledge deemed more valuable or valid than others? What if a person has multiple degrees, or even a university education? Is their knowledge more valuable? What if a person has not been formally trained on research methodologies? Do the person’s personal lived experiences still have value in their own academic research?

These were questions that arose in class discussions among undergraduates and a graduate student instructor in the context of learning about international justice mechanisms and the admissibility of evidence in international court proceedings, where we discussed hierarchies of truth and knowledge. We were wrestling with questions about the possibility of an objective truth, reliability of eyewitness and survivor testimony, and what justice means and to whom.

Out of these discussions, we realized how limited conventional citation guidelines were in recognizing and validating the full range of knowledge and experience students wanted and needed to bring to their research papers for the class. While academia has a strong tradition of in-depth interviews with “research subjects” in ethnographic research and autoethnography as an autobiographical form of writing and research, we wanted to acknowledge and address the power imbalance in these accepted forms of research. Ethnographic (or qualitative), interpretivist research is often seen as less objective or “valid” in disciplinary debates, whereas quantitative, positivist work is often seen as more objective and “pure.” [1] This hierarchy of knowledge production reinforces colonial practices, and western, white epistemologies.

We wanted to raise up the value and validity of personal interviews which we define as more informal conversations with friends, family, and neighbors, for example: the story that has been told around your dinner table for generations, or stories neighbors and family friends have shared for as long as you can remember. This type of “interview” is really more of a conversation and can be rich with context and cultural meaning, and deeply personal. These interviews are closely aligned with lived experience. The “interviewer” is in a unique position to be able to speak to this rich context in ways that more traditional ethnographic interviews by outsiders are not able to.

Similarly, we wanted to uplift and validate personal experiences beyond the traditional uses in autoethnographic research. This was motivated by Emily’s experience as a teaching assistant. She was grading a student’s paper about Latin America and the student failed to provide a citation for a historical event that was described in the paper. According to the grading rubric and conventional expectations, the student was supposed to lose points on the assignment. However, after speaking with the student, Emily learned that the student had lived through the event themselves. The expectation was that the student find a secondary or other primary source to cite, other than their own lived experience or those of their community. There was no convention for them to cite their own personal knowledge even though they lived through it. External sources were valued higher than the student’s own lived, embodied knowledge.

In order to address these concerns, we the authors created a set of guidelines for students to cite their own personal experience and personal interviews in academic research papers that allows for the inclusions of more diverse forms of knowledge production. While there are still arguably some concerns with the convention of citations in general, we wanted to give students and educators practical tools to adapting existing academic practices and expectations to include these traditionally less-valued forms of knowledge production and acknowledge the value of the lived experiences of students and their communities. We wanted to give students the opportunity to center their own knowledge and experience, as well as that of their community.

The first set of guidelines were used in 2018, created in direct response to student’s needs to cite personal experience and family interviews in their research papers. After the course,  Emily, the instructor, interviewed several of the students who used the citation guidelines for feedback and recruited 2 students (Emma and Jake) who had an interest in continuing to develop the guidelines, forming the team that continued to work for the next 4 years to create additional iterations of the guidelines, conduct interviews with students and professors, and search for additional research on development of citation guidelines. Through encouragement of several professors and research librarians, we decided to create this e-book to share the guidelines open source, providing an important tool for students, as well as a starting point for others to continue building, improving, and drawing from our work through a Creative Commons license. More traditional publishing platforms proved to be too limited, closed, and inflexible to meet our needs.

Our hope is that this guide to citing personal experience and interviews meets our goal of supporting students to produce their own knowledge, as well as honoring the academic value of their lived experience and the experiences of their families and communities. Through the use of a set of guidelines we created for students to cite personal experience and interviews, we found students self-reported increase in engagement and success in academic assignments. We propose this set of guidelines as an important practical tool for critical, feminist, and anti-racist pedagogy, as well as a method for teaching ethical research.

Scholars across disciplines are moving toward challenging the status quo in classrooms, and in research. In recent years, the movement to engage in anti-racist pedagogy has strengthened as the United States wrestles with legacies of colonization and racism which continue to permeate our ways of life in this country. Kyoko Kishimoto writes of the need for the practical application of critical race theory, not simply about what is taught in the classroom, but how it is taught. Kishimoto argues that anti-racist, feminist, and critical pedagogy “critique positivist assumptions of knowledge, of an objective universal truth which fails to acknowledge embedded Eurocentrism and male privilege.” [2]

Alongside the movement for anti-racist pedagogy, Indigenous ways of knowing have always challenged these ideas. It is inherent in Indigenous cultural practices like oral and embodied histories. The Indigenous Studies discipline challenges the traditional, rigid separation of “the researcher” and “research subjects.” Instead of the strict boundaries in research, scholars call for collaborative research that values diverse forms of knowledge production, and partnership. Kimberly TallBear writes about this approach as “standing with.” As TallBear argues, “standing with” seeks to build relationship based out of mutual care and concern. [3]

Broader discussion of citations guidelines for scholars has been actively developing. There are more tools now in 2022 than when we originally started this project back in 2018. Most disciplines encourage and value boundaries and distance between the researcher and the researched. [4] Further, researchers are discouraged from studying issues related to their own community. [5] However, there is a movement within Indigenous Studies and critical theory that values diverse forms of knowledge production. [6] There is a movement in various disciplines to value connections between researchers and communities, and collaborative projects. [7] There is an extensive body of literature that argues for a breakdown of this barrier as a way to decolonize research. [8] Some scholars write about the politics of citation, encouraging more inclusive and diverse conversations in the academe. [9] Scholars in education studies and critical pedagogy write about rethinking-knowledge production and citations as a way to address equity and racism. [10]

These guidelines explain and provide examples of how to cite personal experience, the proper structure of the citation, adapted from Chicago, APA, and MLA citation formats, and additional reading suggestions. This guide also provides information about how to cite personal interviews and conversations, including the importance of obtaining consent from the person you are interviewing. These guidelines are proposed in an effort to move toward decolonizing the classroom in a practical way by making space for diverse forms of knowledge production by people who have lived experiences in the contexts we study, but also to make space for the forms of knowledge production that students–along with their communities and families–create as valuable parts of their research.

Through a collaborative process of implementation and evaluation of the use of the guidelines, four outcomes emerged: students consider their own relationship to their research whether or not they use the guidelines; students think critically about all sources, not just those they cite; students bring their own passion and knowledge into the classroom; and students report increased engagement and success in class. As a result, we hope that the use of these guidelines, which foster student knowledge production and deep engagement with course material, can be an important way to decolonize the classroom, bring a diversity of voices into the classroom, and serve as an important tool for critical, feminist, and anti-racist pedagogy.

In the following sections, we will explain how we developed the guidelines and evaluated their impact on students’ academic research and assignments. We will also discuss our suggestions for using the guidelines based on student feedback, as well as areas for further research.

  • Willard, Emily, doctoral dissertation program, class discussions, conversations with professors and classmates. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2015-2020. ↵
  • Kishimoto (2018), p. 541 ↵
  • TallBear (2014) ↵
  • Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (1995); Gerring (2012) ↵
  • Willard, Emily, doctoral dissertation program, class discussions, conversations with professors and classmates. University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2015-2020 ↵
  • Kovach (2009); Tuhiwai-Smith (2012); Stoler (2006); Thomas (2015); Strega and Brown (2015) ↵
  • Bishop (1998); Moses et al (1984); Baumann (2019). ↵
  • Audra Simpson (2007), Stuart Hall (1996) ↵
  • Mott and Cockyane (2017); Tuck, Yang, and Gaztambide-Fernández (2015) ↵
  • Kindon and Ellwood (2009); Kishimoto (2018); Trott, McMeeking, and Weinberg (2019); Cammarota and Romero (2009) ↵

Our Voices: A Guide to Citing Personal Experience and Interviews in Research Copyright © 2023 by Emily Willard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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12 Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing

Marjorie Stewart

Marjorie Stewart’s essay “Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing” comes from the book Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 3 . Stewart uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for academic writing, it addresses the question of when is it appropriate and how it can be done effectively, focusing on helping writers decide when the use of personal experience is appropriate for their purpose, how to make personal experience and narrative pull its weight in the essay, and how the ability to incorporate personal experience can translate into the ability to incorporate research.

The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experience as well as a how-to guide. It contains a discussion of three students who incorporated narrative in their essays in three ways: as a structural frame, as an example when the research topic and personal experience overlap, and as a tool for discovery. Students will benefit from the peer-written examples as well as the use of the personal in the essay itself.

This reading is available below and as a PDF .

“Warp and Weft” uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for academic writing, it addresses the question of when is it appropriate and how it can be done effectively, focusing on helping writers decide when the use of personal experience is appropriate for their purpose, how to make personal experience and narrative pull its weight in the essay, and how the ability to incorporate personal experience can translate into the ability to incorporate research. The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experience as well as a how-to guide. “Warp and Weft” contains a discussion of three students who incorporated narrative in their essays in three ways: as a structural frame, as an example when the research topic and personal experience overlap, and as a tool for discovery. Students will benefit from the peer-written examples as well as the use of the personal in the essay itself.

Like many students, I worked my way through college with a retail job. I was luckier than many of my classmates: I found a job at a hip little boutique called Rebecca: A Gallery of Wearable Art in the trendy part of town. We carried many styles of hand-made clothing, jewelry, and accessories, but our most important merchandise was that made by Rebecca herself. Rebecca was a weaver who made hand-woven clothing and scarves. Her loom took up half of the back room and she wove while I waited on customers. When one fabric came off the loom, Anne, the seamstress, would begin to cut and sew while Rebecca set up the loom for the next design. She created her patterns then transferred them into a computer program that told her how to thread the yarn onto the loom to produce the pattern. She threaded the warp, the yarn that runs lengthwise, onto the loom. The weft (formerly known as woof) was placed on bobbins that fed the shuttle. The act of weaving was moving the shuttle with the weft through the warp to create the weave.

     So what, you might well ask. So what does this have to do with writing?

     Many of you have been taught not to use the word “I” in your academic writing; not to include anything that does not directly relate to that mysterious thing called a “thesis statement;” and not to include anything personal in your writing. The opening of this essay has broken all of those so-called rules – it contains a personal story, told in the first person, that at first glance seems unrelated to the topic of writing. However, in this essay, I – yes, “I” – am here to help you step away from those rules and to use personal stories effectively in your academic writing.

     The first consideration is whether using personal narrative is appropriate for your project. My story of working in Rebecca’s shop is useful here – it is intended to attract the attention of the readers and to establish and explain the extended metaphor of weaving. However, if I were writing an essay for my art history class about the evolution of weaving techniques and equipment, my story would seem out of place, as I only have experience with one step in that evolution, and that experience is of an observer rather than a participant.

     Your composition professor will likely talk to you about the rhetorical situation of any piece of writing. Stated simply (perhaps too simply), the rhetorical situation – the writer, the audience, and the purpose of the writing – affects the way the message is presented. In my hypothetical art history essay, the narrative would confuse the reader as to the purpose of the project and distract from the actual message of the paper. Often in writing classes it seems that your audience is specifically your professor and secondarily, perhaps, your classmates. Given the essays you will read about in this chapter, imagine the larger audiences that the student writers might have been addressing. Consider carefully whether personal narrative belongs in papers you are writing for history, biology, or business classes.

     In addition to your specific rhetorical situation, of course, you should always comply with your professors’ guidelines for each assignment. “No first-person narratives” is a clear statement that personal stories are not appropriate in that classroom.

     However, once you have established that your narrative is appropriate for your purpose and audience, what next? It is my purpose to help you incorporate narrative effectively, and to do that, I will use examples from three of my students in a first-year course, a course designed to help writers bridge the gap between high school and college writing. I am also using the example of this essay itself. Consider my story about Rebecca. I am using her weaving, her design of warp and weft, as a metaphor for the kind of writing this essay is going to talk about. I will also use the story as a frame – talking about weaving in the introduction, the conclusion, and perhaps in the transitions.

Personal Story As Frame

Using a personal story as a frame for your essay can be an effective way to draw your reader into your ideas and then to help them reinterpret those ideas in the end. Perhaps, like me, you’re working in a retail job. Perhaps it’s in a big box store instead of my artsy boutique, and you’re wondering if you’d be happier somewhere else, or you’re thinking, please, hand-woven clothing? You sell electronics, important, functional electronics.

     Just as I began with the story of my time at Rebecca, Lynn Z. Bloom began a conference presentation with a story from her classroom, and then commented, “Such stories, even brief ones, make us want to hear more, and to tell our own right back. They get us where they live. All writing is personal, whether it sounds that way or not, if the writer has a stake in the work” (1). One of my goals in telling the story of Rebecca is to make you want to hear more, and to make you want to tell your own. The human mind is a giant filing cabinet of stories, and when you hear one, you go to the appropriate file drawer – in this case R for Retail Employment – and pull out your own.

     There are many stories in that drawer, however, and it’s important that you choose the right ones. Because my metaphor of writing as weaving is central to my topic, I haven’t included lots of other great stories that came out of my time at Rebecca. I didn’t talk about the great gyros we used to get from Mike and Tony’s across the street, or about how the changing nature of the neighborhood made Rebecca worry whether she had chosen the right location for the store, or about the great artists who came in for trunk shows of their work. I focused on the loom, the weaving. And as the framework for this essay, I consider the story of the loom to be the warp, the yarn threaded on the loom in advance. I will thread my shuttle with the examples of my students’ writing and weave them through.

     The first example, Callie Harding’s “The Life of a Choir Director’s Child,” does the opposite. Her topic – the need for better education about religion in America – is the warp, and her childhood stories are woven though to show the reader how this topic became so important to her. Her stories give the readers context and help them connect with her.

Personal Story as Context

Telling a personal story can help your reader understand why you are writing about the topic you have chosen, and why you have come to care so deeply about it. Callie’s childhood experience of travelling from church to church where her parents worked as choir directors gave her an understanding of many religions, and she uses those stories to show how that has helped her be a more compassionate, thoughtful, and sensitive person.

     Her paper starts this way:

When I was a child, I didn’t spend much time on playgrounds or with the backyard swing set. I didn’t look forward to dance class or soccer practice every week. Instead, most of my time was spent in the pews of a church with a My Little Pony figure that was weaving its way through a jungle of hymnals and pew Bibles. My playground was a cathedral with the somewhat harmonious voices from the volunteer choir echoing off the stone floor over the magnificent pipe organ. At the front of the choir was either my mother or father . . . Yes, I was the child of choir directors. (Harding 1)

     Callie goes on to explain that her family moved from a non-denominational Christian church to a Jewish synagogue; the First Church of Christ, Scientist; a Catholic Church, and finally, a small Lutheran church. “What religion are we?” she asks. This is how she tries to answer her question:

My mother spent a while with the Hindu faith before marrying my father and converting to Mormonism. We are also deeply into our Native American background and practice their cultural and religious ceremonies. Add the fact that we had many friends from many religions and cultures and you can tell that I had one of the most openly religious households on the block. (Harding 1-2)

     Callie then moves very nicely into her research on how to encourage religious tolerance through education. She contrasts her experience in a fundamentalist Christian high school to a school district in Modesto, California where all ninth graders take a semester-long world religion course. She writes about the importance of helping all children understand and celebrate diversity of religion and points to her own experiences as an example of the positive effect this has on them. As part of her research, Callie interviewed her mother about her diverse upbringing. While her mother called it a “happy accident,” she also explained to Callie how she stood up to her very Mormon father to make sure Callie and her sister were free to find their own beliefs.

     As I was studying Callie’s essay, I took three highlighters and circled each paragraph: pink for Callie’s personal story; yellow for Callie’s presentation and discussion of her research, and green for the information from her interview with her mother. This is the result:

  • Paragraphs 1-3 – Callie’s personal story
  • Paragraphs 4-6 – discussion of research
  • Paragraph 7 – Callie’s story
  • Paragraphs 8-9 – discussion of research
  • Paragraph 10 – Callie’s interview with her mother
  • Paragraph 11 – Callie’s story
  • Paragraph 12 – Callie’s interview with her mother
  • Paragraphs 13-14 – Callie’s personal story

     It wasn’t until I did that exercise with the markers that I realized how smoothly Callie had incorporated the three elements of her writing. As I’ve done in this essay, Callie framed her story with the personal. She also used it within the essay to focus and reflect on her research findings. Marking your essay the same way can help you see if you have the right balance between the personal and the more traditionally academic portions of your paper.

     While Callie used her personal stories to provide context to the issue of religion in education, she also used her own background to show herself as an example of someone for whom a broad religious education proved beneficial. In “A Life Lost,” student Melynda Goodfellow used her personal story as an example.

Personal Story as Example

Melynda chose to write about teen suicide, certainly an important topic, but one that far too often leads to a patchwork of statistics and distant narratives, more a report than an essay with heart. Sadly, Melynda had reason to care deeply about her topic: her cousin Jared killed himself with an overdose of prescription pain medication.

     Melynda started her essay with a simple story of a typical Friday night, getting ready to go the high school football game, where her brother would be playing in the band. This night, however, was special, because her cousin had just moved into town and her boyfriend would be meeting him for the first time. Choosing to open with a typical activity – going to the football game – but giving it special meaning was particularly effective for Melynda. I encourage writers to ask themselves the first Passover question: Why is this night different from all other nights? This is the question asked by the youngest child at the beginning of the Seder to start telling the story of the Passover. It also serves the beginning writer well: If this night, this football game, isn’t special in any way, then it isn’t the story to use in your essay. Melynda’s football game is different from all others because her cousin will be there to meet her boyfriend.

     Although the atmosphere is festive, Melynda shows us with foreshadowing that this is not a typical Friday night lights story. She writes that Jared moved because “he wanted to get away from the lifestyle that he was living back home. He wanted a kind of fresh start.” She connects herself to the characters of her brother and her cousin through the band: she had been in band, her brother is performing with the band at the football game, and her cousin is excited about returning to school and joining the band himself. Throughout the narrative part of her essay, Melynda shows Jared as sad and desperate, yet looking forward to his fresh start.

     Melynda tells the story in a straightforward, chronological way from the evening of the football game through her cousin’s death and funeral. Her use of personal experience is different from mine and Callie’s because the majority of her paper is that narrative. The structure of her paper is very different: where Callie went back and forth between the story and the research, Melynda began with the story and introduced the research at the end. The first three pages of Melynda’s six-page essay are the story of her friendship with Jared that fall, and how she becomes his confidant. Pages four and five are the story of how she heard of his death. It is only at the end of her essay that she introduces the statistics that show that suicide is “the third leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24” (Goodfellow 6). Her conclusion, shortly after that statistic, reads:

I never in a million years would have thought something like this would happen in my family. I knew that mental health problems run in the family, but I believed everyone knew where to get help. We knew that suicide wasn’t an option and that we had each other if nothing else. As tragic as it may sound, this event brought our whole family back together. Any quarrels or grudges anyone had seemed to dissipate that day. Ironically, one of the things that Jared wanted the most was for the family to just forget their differences and get along. (Goodfellow 9)

     This ending refocuses Melynda’s readers on the personal meaning of the impersonal statistic.

     In his book Living the Narrative Life: Stories as a Tool for Meaning Making , Gian Pagnucci writes, “I think, actually, that stories can help us get at the truth even if there isn’t a firm truth to be had.” (51) And in Writing to Change the World , Mary Phipher says:

Research shows that storytelling not only engages all of the senses, it triggers activity on both the left and the right sides of the brain . . . . People attend, remember, and are transformed by stories which are meaning-filled units of ideas, the verbal equivalent of mother’s milk. (11)

     Melynda works at getting at the true story of her cousin’s death, making meaning of it, even though there is no firm truth or solid meaning to be had there. The truth she arrives at, however, is more powerful than the “just the facts” approach because the story lingers with her readers in a way statistics can’t.

     Another thing Melynda does that makes her essay different from mine, and Callie’s, is her inclusion of dialogue. I think she makes especially good use of it in her essay, something that is often difficult for writers at all levels. Here she shows us how she learned of Jared’s death:

“What is it?” I said when I picked the phone up. “It’s about time you answered your phone! I’ve been calling you for over an hour,” my mom said. “Well?” “It’s Jared. He’s in the hospital. He overdosed.” “Oh, my God . . . Is he okay? I’ll be right there. I’m leaving work now.” “No. Don’t come here. There’s nothing you can do. He’s dead.” (Goodfellow 4)

     Recreating dialogue can be challenging – a year after her cousin’s death, can Melynda be certain that these were the exact words that she and her mother spoke? Probably not, but she can show her readers the tension in the moment – her mother’s anger that she didn’t pick up, her desire to be with Jared, and her mother’s postponing of the awful news. Dialogue also can be used to pick up the pace of the story – the light look of it on the page helps readers’ eyes move over it quickly, getting a lot of information from a few carefully-chosen words.

     There are significant structural differences between Melynda’s essay and Callie’s. Callie’s is split almost evenly between personal experience and research; Melynda’s is about 85% personal story. The third student, Ethelin Ekwa, uses personal story in an even larger portion of her essay, which is entitled “Ethelin Ekwa: An Autobiography.” Although the title might lead you to believe that the essay is only, or just, or simply, personal narrative, Ethelin uses the story of her life to explore her ethnic heritage, her life as a single mother, and her determination to make the most of her artistic and musical talents. She tells the story of her life as a way of understanding her place in the world at the time of the writing.

Personal Story as Discovery

Ethelin’s essay can be seen as an example of Donald M. Murray’ beliefs about writing: “We write to think – to be surprised by what appears on the page; to explore our world with language; to discover meaning that teaches us and may be worth sharing with others …. . . we write to know what we want to say.” (3). Although my students always write multiple drafts of all of their essays, Ethelin wrote more than usual – at least four significant revisions before the final draft that she submitted in her portfolio. She was a frequent visitor at our writers’ center as she worked through the paper. Somewhere in an intermediate draft, she found her frame: a quotation from Ani Difranco’s song “Out of Habit:” “Art is why I get up in the morning.” That idea led her Ethelin to her conclusion: “I cannot imagine a day without the ability to create in unconventional ways” (Ekwa 9). In the eight and a half pages in between, she tells the story of her life.

     In Callie and Melynda’s essays, there is a very clear separation between personal experience, research material, and the writers’ commentary on those elements. The weaving, to continue the metaphor, is done in larger blocks of color. Ethelin’s essay has a more subtle pattern. Every paragraph contains some detail of her life – where she was born, who her parents were, where she lived – but also has a reference to her life-long desire to be an artist. She talks about her work as a writer and poet; as a singer and musician; and as a photographer and visual artist.

     Ethelin’s background is intriguing – her parents moved from Cameroon, West Africa to France and then to Texas, where she was born, the youngest of five children. She has lived in Europe and Africa, and she went to school in France and Cameroon. Here is how she introduces herself in the second paragraph:

My birth name is Ethelin Ekwa. I am also known as Obsolete by my artist friends and as Krysty by my close personal friends. I am an artist, a mother, a photographer and a lover of all things. I am an American-born citizen with Cameroonian and French origins. I am 30 years old and I currently reside in North Braddock. (Ekwa 1)

     Ethelin’s identity is tied to her arts from the very beginning, and every story from her life is wrapped around those arts. When, at 22, she becomes a single mother, her priorities change, but she never gives up: “When I got pregnant, I put singing, painting, and drawing on hold . . . I had more pressing matters to take care of and there just was not time for art” (Ekwa 3). Soon, though, she tells us that she made a new friend who introduced her to digital photography, and by the time her daughter was two years old, she had her own photography business up and running.

     While Melynda chose one special night to tell about at the start of her essay, Ethelin chose many events from her life, all of them important, life-changing events. Reading Ethelin’s essay, I can almost see Rebecca’s shuttle flying back and forth across the loom, the turn at each side another event that pulls Ethelin back into the world of art. When the weaver turns the shuttle at the edge of the warp, the weft creates a finished edge that prevents the fabric from fraying or unraveling called a selvage. The turns in Ethelin’s story create a sense that her life, which is sometimes unplanned and chaotic, still has something that keeps it from unraveling, and that something is her artistic nature.

Tying Up Loose Ends

The examples from my students’ essays can help you understand how to use personal experience in your academic writing. But how do you know when to use it? When is it acceptable and appropriate? Gian Pagnucci asserts, “Narrative ideology is built on a trust in confusion, a letting go of certainty and clarity that can ultimately lead to understanding” (53); that stories have a “piercing clarity” (17), and that “the drive to narrate experience is, if not instinctive, then at the very least quintessentially human” (41). He also warns that the academic world is not always welcoming of personal experience. I know many of my colleagues are not willing to trust in confusion – their entire careers, and even their lives, have been built on the quest for knowledge and certainty.

     If your composition professor has asked you to read this chapter, it’s a pretty safe bet that you may use personal experiences in your writing for that class. Even in that setting, however, there are times when it is more effective than others. Using the examples of the essays I’ve quoted from and the guidelines given in the beginning of this chapter, here are some tips on when to use your personal experience in your essays:

  • When, like Callie and Melynda, your experiences have inspired a passionate opinion on your topic
  • When, like Ethelin, your personal experiences constantly point back to your central idea
  • When, like me, your personal experiences provide a strong and ex- tended metaphor for your subject
  • When, like all of the writers, your personal experience provides a structure or framework for your essay

The expression “tying up the loose ends” comes from weaving and other fabric arts. When the yarn in the shuttle is changed, the new yarn is tied to the old at the selvage. Those threads are later woven into the fabric so that they don’t show, and so that the connection is tight. When your rough draft is done, it’s time to take the fabric off the loom and make sure your weave is tight. At that point, ask yourself these questions to be sure you are using your experience appropriately and effectively in your essay:

  • What percentage of your essay is personal experience, and how does that match up with the nature of the assignment? Callie’s essay was written in response to an assignment that required more research than the one Ethelin was responding to, so it included less personal writing.
  • Have you included only the personal stories that directly relate to your topic, your attitude towards your topic, or your controlling idea?
  • Are your selvages tight? Do the moves you make between personal story and research and analysis make sense, or is the fabric of your essay likely to unravel?
  • Is the resulting pattern appropriate to your project? Are you working in large blocks of color, like Callie and Melynda, or the subtler tweed of Ethelin’s essay?

I started this essay in Rebecca’s shop and tried to weave the metaphor inspired there through this essay. In the process, I realized another advantage to using personal stories in academic writing: I hadn’t thought about Rebecca and Anne, about Mike and Tony’s gyros, about the bright creative atmosphere in the gallery and in the neighborhood for a long time. Accessing those stories from the filing cabinet in my brain was inspirational. My stories from Rebecca are mostly fun or funny. Your stories, like mine and the writers quoted here, are a mix of light and dark, funny and serious. I encourage you to open the file cabinet and find the stories that will make your readers remember similar times.

Works Cited

Bloom, Lynn Z. “That Way Be Monsters: Myths and Bugaboos about Teaching Personal Writing.” CCCC 51st Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN, Apr. 2000.

DiFranco, Ani. “Out of Habit.” Ani DiFranco , Righteous Babe Records, 1990. Ekwa, Ethelin. “Ethelin Ekwa: An Autobiography.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Goodfellow, Melynda. “A Life Lost.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Harding, Callie. “The Life of a Choir Director’s Child.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composi tion and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Murray, Donald M. A Writer Teaches Writing . Rev. 2nd ed. Cengage, 2003.

Pagnucci, Gian. Living the Narrative Life: Stories as a Tool for Meaning Making. Heinemann, 2004.

Pipher, Mary. Writing to Change the World . Riverhead Books, 2006.

the broader context in which communication is taking place

The Muse: Misunderstandings and Their Remedies Copyright © by Marjorie Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Doing Research in Counselling and Psychotherapy

Student resources, using personal experience as a basis for research: autoethnography.

Autoethnography is quite different from other genres of research, in being based in first-person writing and reflection on personal experience. Carrying out an autoethnographic study not only has the potential to contribute to the research literature – it can also be highly personally meaningful, and provide a distinctive vantage point from which it is possible to see other types of research in a fresh way.

To appreciate what is involved in autoethnographic research it is necessary to try it out on yourself. This set of reflexive writing tasks provide suggestions about how to make a start with this kind of process. It is not necessary to complete all the writing exercises, or to begin with the first one – better to scan through the options and engage with the ones that strike a chord.

Articles on ethical issues in autoethnographic research are available in the Chapter 5 section of these online resources.

Papers on engaging in autoethnographic inquiry

These papers on psychotherapeutic topics illustrate different styles of autoethnographic inquiry, and different writing techniques. When reading them, make notes about those elements of each paper that could be usefully incorporated into your own study, and these elements that would be inappropriate.

Douglass, B.G. & Moustakas, C. (1985) Heuristic inquiry: the internal search to know.  Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 25, 39 – 55. 

Heuristic inquiry was an important precursor of autoethnography – this article highlights aspects of the study of personal experience that are not always given enough emphasis in the contemporary autoethnographic literature

Chang, H. (2016). Autoethnography in health research: growing pains? Qualitative Health Research, 26, 443 – 451. 

A useful discussion of current trends in autoethnography

Harder, R., Nicol, J. J., & Martin, S. L. (2020). " The power of personal experiences": post-publication experiences of researchers using autobiographical data.  The Qualitative Report , 25(1), 238 – 254.

Autoethnographic work is personally highly revealing – this study explores how experienced autoethnographic researchers evaluate the impact this has had on them​  

Wall, S. (2006) An autoethnography on learning about autoethnography.  International Journal of Qualitative Methods,  5, 146 – 160.

Wall, S. (2008) Easier said than done: writing an autoethnography.  International Journal of Qualitative Methods,  7, 38 – 53. 

Many researchers have found these papers – which tell the story of conducting an autoethnographic study – useful in terms of their own development

Exemplar autoethnographic articles

Asfeldt, M., & Beames, S. (2017). Trusting the journey: Embracing the unpredictable and difficult to measure nature of wilderness educational expeditions.  Journal of Experiential Education , 40(1), 72 – 86.

Brooks, C.F. (2011). Social performance and secret ritual: battling against Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Qualitative Health Research, 21, 249 – 261.

Fox, R. (2014). Are those germs in your pocket, or am I just crazy to see you? An autoethnographic consideration of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Qualitative Inquiry , 20(8), 966 – 975.

Matthews, A. (2019). Writing through grief: Using autoethnography to help process grief after the death of a loved one.  Methodological Innovations , 12(3), 1 –10 .

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • Academic Writing Style
  • Purpose of Guide
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  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
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Academic writing refers to a style of expression that researchers use to define the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and specific areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like specialist languages adopted in other professions, such as, law or medicine, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas or concepts within a community of scholarly experts and practitioners.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020.

Importance of Good Academic Writing

The accepted form of academic writing in the social sciences can vary considerable depending on the methodological framework and the intended audience. However, most college-level research papers require careful attention to the following stylistic elements:

I.  The Big Picture Unlike creative or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must be cohesive and possess a logically organized flow of ideas; this means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. There should be narrative links between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader is able to follow your argument. The introduction should include a description of how the rest of the paper is organized and all sources are properly cited throughout the paper.

II.  Tone The overall tone refers to the attitude conveyed in a piece of writing. Throughout your paper, it is important that you present the arguments of others fairly and with an appropriate narrative tone. When presenting a position or argument that you disagree with, describe this argument accurately and without loaded or biased language. In academic writing, the author is expected to investigate the research problem from an authoritative point of view. You should, therefore, state the strengths of your arguments confidently, using language that is neutral, not confrontational or dismissive.

III.  Diction Diction refers to the choice of words you use. Awareness of the words you use is important because words that have almost the same denotation [dictionary definition] can have very different connotations [implied meanings]. This is particularly true in academic writing because words and terminology can evolve a nuanced meaning that describes a particular idea, concept, or phenomenon derived from the epistemological culture of that discipline [e.g., the concept of rational choice in political science]. Therefore, use concrete words [not general] that convey a specific meaning. If this cannot be done without confusing the reader, then you need to explain what you mean within the context of how that word or phrase is used within a discipline.

IV.  Language The investigation of research problems in the social sciences is often complex and multi- dimensional . Therefore, it is important that you use unambiguous language. Well-structured paragraphs and clear topic sentences enable a reader to follow your line of thinking without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal, and express precisely what you want it to mean. Do not use vague expressions that are not specific or precise enough for the reader to derive exact meaning ["they," "we," "people," "the organization," etc.], abbreviations like 'i.e.'  ["in other words"], 'e.g.' ["for example"], or 'a.k.a.' ["also known as"], and the use of unspecific determinate words ["super," "very," "incredible," "huge," etc.].

V.  Punctuation Scholars rely on precise words and language to establish the narrative tone of their work and, therefore, punctuation marks are used very deliberately. For example, exclamation points are rarely used to express a heightened tone because it can come across as unsophisticated or over-excited. Dashes should be limited to the insertion of an explanatory comment in a sentence, while hyphens should be limited to connecting prefixes to words [e.g., multi-disciplinary] or when forming compound phrases [e.g., commander-in-chief]. Finally, understand that semi-colons represent a pause that is longer than a comma, but shorter than a period in a sentence. In general, there are four grammatical uses of semi-colons: when a second clause expands or explains the first clause; to describe a sequence of actions or different aspects of the same topic; placed before clauses which begin with "nevertheless", "therefore", "even so," and "for instance”; and, to mark off a series of phrases or clauses which contain commas. If you are not confident about when to use semi-colons [and most of the time, they are not required for proper punctuation], rewrite using shorter sentences or revise the paragraph.

VI.  Academic Conventions Among the most important rules and principles of academic engagement of a writing is citing sources in the body of your paper and providing a list of references as either footnotes or endnotes. The academic convention of citing sources facilitates processes of intellectual discovery, critical thinking, and applying a deliberate method of navigating through the scholarly landscape by tracking how cited works are propagated by scholars over time . Aside from citing sources, other academic conventions to follow include the appropriate use of headings and subheadings, properly spelling out acronyms when first used in the text, avoiding slang or colloquial language, avoiding emotive language or unsupported declarative statements, avoiding contractions [e.g., isn't], and using first person and second person pronouns only when necessary.

VII.  Evidence-Based Reasoning Assignments often ask you to express your own point of view about the research problem. However, what is valued in academic writing is that statements are based on evidence-based reasoning. This refers to possessing a clear understanding of the pertinent body of knowledge and academic debates that exist within, and often external to, your discipline concerning the topic. You need to support your arguments with evidence from scholarly [i.e., academic or peer-reviewed] sources. It should be an objective stance presented as a logical argument; the quality of the evidence you cite will determine the strength of your argument. The objective is to convince the reader of the validity of your thoughts through a well-documented, coherent, and logically structured piece of writing. This is particularly important when proposing solutions to problems or delineating recommended courses of action.

VIII.  Thesis-Driven Academic writing is “thesis-driven,” meaning that the starting point is a particular perspective, idea, or position applied to the chosen topic of investigation, such as, establishing, proving, or disproving solutions to the questions applied to investigating the research problem. Note that a problem statement without the research questions does not qualify as academic writing because simply identifying the research problem does not establish for the reader how you will contribute to solving the problem, what aspects you believe are most critical, or suggest a method for gathering information or data to better understand the problem.

IX.  Complexity and Higher-Order Thinking Academic writing addresses complex issues that require higher-order thinking skills applied to understanding the research problem [e.g., critical, reflective, logical, and creative thinking as opposed to, for example, descriptive or prescriptive thinking]. Higher-order thinking skills include cognitive processes that are used to comprehend, solve problems, and express concepts or that describe abstract ideas that cannot be easily acted out, pointed to, or shown with images. Think of your writing this way: One of the most important attributes of a good teacher is the ability to explain complexity in a way that is understandable and relatable to the topic being presented during class. This is also one of the main functions of academic writing--examining and explaining the significance of complex ideas as clearly as possible.  As a writer, you must adopt the role of a good teacher by summarizing complex information into a well-organized synthesis of ideas, concepts, and recommendations that contribute to a better understanding of the research problem.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Roy. Improve Your Writing Skills . Manchester, UK: Clifton Press, 1995; Nygaard, Lynn P. Writing for Scholars: A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2015; Silvia, Paul J. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007; Style, Diction, Tone, and Voice. Writing Center, Wheaton College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Strategies for...

Understanding Academic Writing and Its Jargon

The very definition of research jargon is language specific to a particular community of practitioner-researchers . Therefore, in modern university life, jargon represents the specific language and meaning assigned to words and phrases specific to a discipline or area of study. For example, the idea of being rational may hold the same general meaning in both political science and psychology, but its application to understanding and explaining phenomena within the research domain of a each discipline may have subtle differences based upon how scholars in that discipline apply the concept to the theories and practice of their work.

Given this, it is important that specialist terminology [i.e., jargon] must be used accurately and applied under the appropriate conditions . Subject-specific dictionaries are the best places to confirm the meaning of terms within the context of a specific discipline. These can be found by either searching in the USC Libraries catalog by entering the disciplinary and the word dictionary [e.g., sociology and dictionary] or using a database such as Credo Reference [a curated collection of subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, guides from highly regarded publishers] . It is appropriate for you to use specialist language within your field of study, but you should avoid using such language when writing for non-academic or general audiences.

Problems with Opaque Writing

A common criticism of scholars is that they can utilize needlessly complex syntax or overly expansive vocabulary that is impenetrable or not well-defined. When writing, avoid problems associated with opaque writing by keeping in mind the following:

1.   Excessive use of specialized terminology . Yes, it is appropriate for you to use specialist language and a formal style of expression in academic writing, but it does not mean using "big words" just for the sake of doing so. Overuse of complex or obscure words or writing complicated sentence constructions gives readers the impression that your paper is more about style than substance; it leads the reader to question if you really know what you are talking about. Focus on creating clear, concise, and elegant prose that minimizes reliance on specialized terminology.

2.   Inappropriate use of specialized terminology . Because you are dealing with concepts, research, and data within your discipline, you need to use the technical language appropriate to that area of study. However, nothing will undermine the validity of your study quicker than the inappropriate application of a term or concept. Avoid using terms whose meaning you are unsure of--do not just guess or assume! Consult the meaning of terms in specialized, discipline-specific dictionaries by searching the USC Libraries catalog or the Credo Reference database [see above].

Additional Problems to Avoid

In addition to understanding the use of specialized language, there are other aspects of academic writing in the social sciences that you should be aware of. These problems include:

  • Personal nouns . Excessive use of personal nouns [e.g., I, me, you, us] may lead the reader to believe the study was overly subjective. These words can be interpreted as being used only to avoid presenting empirical evidence about the research problem. Limit the use of personal nouns to descriptions of things you actually did [e.g., "I interviewed ten teachers about classroom management techniques..."]. Note that personal nouns are generally found in the discussion section of a paper because this is where you as the author/researcher interpret and describe your work.
  • Directives . Avoid directives that demand the reader to "do this" or "do that." Directives should be framed as evidence-based recommendations or goals leading to specific outcomes. Note that an exception to this can be found in various forms of action research that involve evidence-based advocacy for social justice or transformative change. Within this area of the social sciences, authors may offer directives for action in a declarative tone of urgency.
  • Informal, conversational tone using slang and idioms . Academic writing relies on excellent grammar and precise word structure. Your narrative should not include regional dialects or slang terms because they can be open to interpretation. Your writing should be direct and concise using standard English.
  • Wordiness. Focus on being concise, straightforward, and developing a narrative that does not have confusing language . By doing so, you  help eliminate the possibility of the reader misinterpreting the design and purpose of your study.
  • Vague expressions (e.g., "they," "we," "people," "the company," "that area," etc.). Being concise in your writing also includes avoiding vague references to persons, places, or things. While proofreading your paper, be sure to look for and edit any vague or imprecise statements that lack context or specificity.
  • Numbered lists and bulleted items . The use of bulleted items or lists should be used only if the narrative dictates a need for clarity. For example, it is fine to state, "The four main problems with hedge funds are:" and then list them as 1, 2, 3, 4. However, in academic writing, this must then be followed by detailed explanation and analysis of each item. Given this, the question you should ask yourself while proofreading is: why begin with a list in the first place rather than just starting with systematic analysis of each item arranged in separate paragraphs? Also, be careful using numbers because they can imply a ranked order of priority or importance. If none exists, use bullets and avoid checkmarks or other symbols.
  • Descriptive writing . Describing a research problem is an important means of contextualizing a study. In fact, some description or background information may be needed because you can not assume the reader knows the key aspects of the topic. However, the content of your paper should focus on methodology, the analysis and interpretation of findings, and their implications as they apply to the research problem rather than background information and descriptions of tangential issues.
  • Personal experience. Drawing upon personal experience [e.g., traveling abroad; caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease] can be an effective way of introducing the research problem or engaging your readers in understanding its significance. Use personal experience only as an example, though, because academic writing relies on evidence-based research. To do otherwise is simply story-telling.

NOTE:   Rules concerning excellent grammar and precise word structure do not apply when quoting someone.  A quote should be inserted in the text of your paper exactly as it was stated. If the quote is especially vague or hard to understand, consider paraphrasing it or using a different quote to convey the same meaning. Consider inserting the term "sic" in brackets after the quoted text to indicate that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, but the source had grammar, spelling, or other errors. The adverb sic informs the reader that the errors are not yours.

Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Eileen S. “Action Research.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education . Edited by George W. Noblit and Joseph R. Neikirk. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020); Oppenheimer, Daniel M. "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly." Applied Cognitive Psychology 20 (2006): 139-156; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020; Pernawan, Ari. Common Flaws in Students' Research Proposals. English Education Department. Yogyakarta State University; Style. College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Structure and Writing Style

I. Improving Academic Writing

To improve your academic writing skills, you should focus your efforts on three key areas: 1.   Clear Writing . The act of thinking about precedes the process of writing about. Good writers spend sufficient time distilling information and reviewing major points from the literature they have reviewed before creating their work. Writing detailed outlines can help you clearly organize your thoughts. Effective academic writing begins with solid planning, so manage your time carefully. 2.  Excellent Grammar . Needless to say, English grammar can be difficult and complex; even the best scholars take many years before they have a command of the major points of good grammar. Take the time to learn the major and minor points of good grammar. Spend time practicing writing and seek detailed feedback from professors. Take advantage of the Writing Center on campus if you need help. Proper punctuation and good proofreading skills can significantly improve academic writing [see sub-tab for proofreading you paper ].

Refer to these three basic resources to help your grammar and writing skills:

  • A good writing reference book, such as, Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style or the St. Martin's Handbook ;
  • A college-level dictionary, such as, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary ;
  • The latest edition of Roget's Thesaurus in Dictionary Form .

3.  Consistent Stylistic Approach . Whether your professor expresses a preference to use MLA, APA or the Chicago Manual of Style or not, choose one style manual and stick to it. Each of these style manuals provide rules on how to write out numbers, references, citations, footnotes, and lists. Consistent adherence to a style of writing helps with the narrative flow of your paper and improves its readability. Note that some disciplines require a particular style [e.g., education uses APA] so as you write more papers within your major, your familiarity with it will improve.

II. Evaluating Quality of Writing

A useful approach for evaluating the quality of your academic writing is to consider the following issues from the perspective of the reader. While proofreading your final draft, critically assess the following elements in your writing.

  • It is shaped around one clear research problem, and it explains what that problem is from the outset.
  • Your paper tells the reader why the problem is important and why people should know about it.
  • You have accurately and thoroughly informed the reader what has already been published about this problem or others related to it and noted important gaps in the research.
  • You have provided evidence to support your argument that the reader finds convincing.
  • The paper includes a description of how and why particular evidence was collected and analyzed, and why specific theoretical arguments or concepts were used.
  • The paper is made up of paragraphs, each containing only one controlling idea.
  • You indicate how each section of the paper addresses the research problem.
  • You have considered counter-arguments or counter-examples where they are relevant.
  • Arguments, evidence, and their significance have been presented in the conclusion.
  • Limitations of your research have been explained as evidence of the potential need for further study.
  • The narrative flows in a clear, accurate, and well-organized way.

Boscoloa, Pietro, Barbara Arféb, and Mara Quarisaa. “Improving the Quality of Students' Academic Writing: An Intervention Study.” Studies in Higher Education 32 (August 2007): 419-438; Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; Candlin, Christopher. Academic Writing Step-By-Step: A Research-based Approach . Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2016; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Style . College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

Considering the Passive Voice in Academic Writing

In the English language, we are able to construct sentences in the following way: 1.  "The policies of Congress caused the economic crisis." 2.  "The economic crisis was caused by the policies of Congress."

The decision about which sentence to use is governed by whether you want to focus on “Congress” and what they did, or on “the economic crisis” and what caused it. This choice in focus is achieved with the use of either the active or the passive voice. When you want your readers to focus on the "doer" of an action, you can make the "doer"' the subject of the sentence and use the active form of the verb. When you want readers to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself, you can make the effect or the action the subject of the sentence by using the passive form of the verb.

Often in academic writing, scholars don't want to focus on who is doing an action, but on who is receiving or experiencing the consequences of that action. The passive voice is useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence.

Use the passive voice when:

  • You want to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself;
  • It is not important who or what did the action;
  • You want to be impersonal or more formal.

Form the passive voice by:

  • Turning the object of the active sentence into the subject of the passive sentence.
  • Changing the verb to a passive form by adding the appropriate form of the verb "to be" and the past participle of the main verb.

NOTE: Consult with your professor about using the passive voice before submitting your research paper. Some strongly discourage its use!

Active and Passive Voice. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Diefenbach, Paul. Future of Digital Media Syllabus. Drexel University; Passive Voice. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.  

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Should I Use “I”?

What this handout is about.

This handout is about determining when to use first person pronouns (“I”, “we,” “me,” “us,” “my,” and “our”) and personal experience in academic writing. “First person” and “personal experience” might sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but first person and personal experience can work in very different ways in your writing. You might choose to use “I” but not make any reference to your individual experiences in a particular paper. Or you might include a brief description of an experience that could help illustrate a point you’re making without ever using the word “I.” So whether or not you should use first person and personal experience are really two separate questions, both of which this handout addresses. It also offers some alternatives if you decide that either “I” or personal experience isn’t appropriate for your project. If you’ve decided that you do want to use one of them, this handout offers some ideas about how to do so effectively, because in many cases using one or the other might strengthen your writing.

Expectations about academic writing

Students often arrive at college with strict lists of writing rules in mind. Often these are rather strict lists of absolutes, including rules both stated and unstated:

  • Each essay should have exactly five paragraphs.
  • Don’t begin a sentence with “and” or “because.”
  • Never include personal opinion.
  • Never use “I” in essays.

We get these ideas primarily from teachers and other students. Often these ideas are derived from good advice but have been turned into unnecessarily strict rules in our minds. The problem is that overly strict rules about writing can prevent us, as writers, from being flexible enough to learn to adapt to the writing styles of different fields, ranging from the sciences to the humanities, and different kinds of writing projects, ranging from reviews to research.

So when it suits your purpose as a scholar, you will probably need to break some of the old rules, particularly the rules that prohibit first person pronouns and personal experience. Although there are certainly some instructors who think that these rules should be followed (so it is a good idea to ask directly), many instructors in all kinds of fields are finding reason to depart from these rules. Avoiding “I” can lead to awkwardness and vagueness, whereas using it in your writing can improve style and clarity. Using personal experience, when relevant, can add concreteness and even authority to writing that might otherwise be vague and impersonal. Because college writing situations vary widely in terms of stylistic conventions, tone, audience, and purpose, the trick is deciphering the conventions of your writing context and determining how your purpose and audience affect the way you write. The rest of this handout is devoted to strategies for figuring out when to use “I” and personal experience.

Effective uses of “I”:

In many cases, using the first person pronoun can improve your writing, by offering the following benefits:

  • Assertiveness: In some cases you might wish to emphasize agency (who is doing what), as for instance if you need to point out how valuable your particular project is to an academic discipline or to claim your unique perspective or argument.
  • Clarity: Because trying to avoid the first person can lead to awkward constructions and vagueness, using the first person can improve your writing style.
  • Positioning yourself in the essay: In some projects, you need to explain how your research or ideas build on or depart from the work of others, in which case you’ll need to say “I,” “we,” “my,” or “our”; if you wish to claim some kind of authority on the topic, first person may help you do so.

Deciding whether “I” will help your style

Here is an example of how using the first person can make the writing clearer and more assertive:

Original example:

In studying American popular culture of the 1980s, the question of to what degree materialism was a major characteristic of the cultural milieu was explored.

Better example using first person:

In our study of American popular culture of the 1980s, we explored the degree to which materialism characterized the cultural milieu.

The original example sounds less emphatic and direct than the revised version; using “I” allows the writers to avoid the convoluted construction of the original and clarifies who did what.

Here is an example in which alternatives to the first person would be more appropriate:

As I observed the communication styles of first-year Carolina women, I noticed frequent use of non-verbal cues.

Better example:

A study of the communication styles of first-year Carolina women revealed frequent use of non-verbal cues.

In the original example, using the first person grounds the experience heavily in the writer’s subjective, individual perspective, but the writer’s purpose is to describe a phenomenon that is in fact objective or independent of that perspective. Avoiding the first person here creates the desired impression of an observed phenomenon that could be reproduced and also creates a stronger, clearer statement.

Here’s another example in which an alternative to first person works better:

As I was reading this study of medieval village life, I noticed that social class tended to be clearly defined.

This study of medieval village life reveals that social class tended to be clearly defined.

Although you may run across instructors who find the casual style of the original example refreshing, they are probably rare. The revised version sounds more academic and renders the statement more assertive and direct.

Here’s a final example:

I think that Aristotle’s ethical arguments are logical and readily applicable to contemporary cases, or at least it seems that way to me.

Better example

Aristotle’s ethical arguments are logical and readily applicable to contemporary cases.

In this example, there is no real need to announce that that statement about Aristotle is your thought; this is your paper, so readers will assume that the ideas in it are yours.

Determining whether to use “I” according to the conventions of the academic field

Which fields allow “I”?

The rules for this are changing, so it’s always best to ask your instructor if you’re not sure about using first person. But here are some general guidelines.

Sciences: In the past, scientific writers avoided the use of “I” because scientists often view the first person as interfering with the impression of objectivity and impersonality they are seeking to create. But conventions seem to be changing in some cases—for instance, when a scientific writer is describing a project she is working on or positioning that project within the existing research on the topic. Check with your science instructor to find out whether it’s o.k. to use “I” in their class.

Social Sciences: Some social scientists try to avoid “I” for the same reasons that other scientists do. But first person is becoming more commonly accepted, especially when the writer is describing their project or perspective.

Humanities: Ask your instructor whether you should use “I.” The purpose of writing in the humanities is generally to offer your own analysis of language, ideas, or a work of art. Writers in these fields tend to value assertiveness and to emphasize agency (who’s doing what), so the first person is often—but not always—appropriate. Sometimes writers use the first person in a less effective way, preceding an assertion with “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe” as if such a phrase could replace a real defense of an argument. While your audience is generally interested in your perspective in the humanities fields, readers do expect you to fully argue, support, and illustrate your assertions. Personal belief or opinion is generally not sufficient in itself; you will need evidence of some kind to convince your reader.

Other writing situations: If you’re writing a speech, use of the first and even the second person (“you”) is generally encouraged because these personal pronouns can create a desirable sense of connection between speaker and listener and can contribute to the sense that the speaker is sincere and involved in the issue. If you’re writing a resume, though, avoid the first person; describe your experience, education, and skills without using a personal pronoun (for example, under “Experience” you might write “Volunteered as a peer counselor”).

A note on the second person “you”:

In situations where your intention is to sound conversational and friendly because it suits your purpose, as it does in this handout intended to offer helpful advice, or in a letter or speech, “you” might help to create just the sense of familiarity you’re after. But in most academic writing situations, “you” sounds overly conversational, as for instance in a claim like “when you read the poem ‘The Wasteland,’ you feel a sense of emptiness.” In this case, the “you” sounds overly conversational. The statement would read better as “The poem ‘The Wasteland’ creates a sense of emptiness.” Academic writers almost always use alternatives to the second person pronoun, such as “one,” “the reader,” or “people.”

Personal experience in academic writing

The question of whether personal experience has a place in academic writing depends on context and purpose. In papers that seek to analyze an objective principle or data as in science papers, or in papers for a field that explicitly tries to minimize the effect of the researcher’s presence such as anthropology, personal experience would probably distract from your purpose. But sometimes you might need to explicitly situate your position as researcher in relation to your subject of study. Or if your purpose is to present your individual response to a work of art, to offer examples of how an idea or theory might apply to life, or to use experience as evidence or a demonstration of an abstract principle, personal experience might have a legitimate role to play in your academic writing. Using personal experience effectively usually means keeping it in the service of your argument, as opposed to letting it become an end in itself or take over the paper.

It’s also usually best to keep your real or hypothetical stories brief, but they can strengthen arguments in need of concrete illustrations or even just a little more vitality.

Here are some examples of effective ways to incorporate personal experience in academic writing:

  • Anecdotes: In some cases, brief examples of experiences you’ve had or witnessed may serve as useful illustrations of a point you’re arguing or a theory you’re evaluating. For instance, in philosophical arguments, writers often use a real or hypothetical situation to illustrate abstract ideas and principles.
  • References to your own experience can explain your interest in an issue or even help to establish your authority on a topic.
  • Some specific writing situations, such as application essays, explicitly call for discussion of personal experience.

Here are some suggestions about including personal experience in writing for specific fields:

Philosophy: In philosophical writing, your purpose is generally to reconstruct or evaluate an existing argument, and/or to generate your own. Sometimes, doing this effectively may involve offering a hypothetical example or an illustration. In these cases, you might find that inventing or recounting a scenario that you’ve experienced or witnessed could help demonstrate your point. Personal experience can play a very useful role in your philosophy papers, as long as you always explain to the reader how the experience is related to your argument. (See our handout on writing in philosophy for more information.)

Religion: Religion courses might seem like a place where personal experience would be welcomed. But most religion courses take a cultural, historical, or textual approach, and these generally require objectivity and impersonality. So although you probably have very strong beliefs or powerful experiences in this area that might motivate your interest in the field, they shouldn’t supplant scholarly analysis. But ask your instructor, as it is possible that they are interested in your personal experiences with religion, especially in less formal assignments such as response papers. (See our handout on writing in religious studies for more information.)

Literature, Music, Fine Arts, and Film: Writing projects in these fields can sometimes benefit from the inclusion of personal experience, as long as it isn’t tangential. For instance, your annoyance over your roommate’s habits might not add much to an analysis of “Citizen Kane.” However, if you’re writing about Ridley Scott’s treatment of relationships between women in the movie “Thelma and Louise,” some reference your own observations about these relationships might be relevant if it adds to your analysis of the film. Personal experience can be especially appropriate in a response paper, or in any kind of assignment that asks about your experience of the work as a reader or viewer. Some film and literature scholars are interested in how a film or literary text is received by different audiences, so a discussion of how a particular viewer or reader experiences or identifies with the piece would probably be appropriate. (See our handouts on writing about fiction , art history , and drama for more information.)

Women’s Studies: Women’s Studies classes tend to be taught from a feminist perspective, a perspective which is generally interested in the ways in which individuals experience gender roles. So personal experience can often serve as evidence for your analytical and argumentative papers in this field. This field is also one in which you might be asked to keep a journal, a kind of writing that requires you to apply theoretical concepts to your experiences.

History: If you’re analyzing a historical period or issue, personal experience is less likely to advance your purpose of objectivity. However, some kinds of historical scholarship do involve the exploration of personal histories. So although you might not be referencing your own experience, you might very well be discussing other people’s experiences as illustrations of their historical contexts. (See our handout on writing in history for more information.)

Sciences: Because the primary purpose is to study data and fixed principles in an objective way, personal experience is less likely to have a place in this kind of writing. Often, as in a lab report, your goal is to describe observations in such a way that a reader could duplicate the experiment, so the less extra information, the better. Of course, if you’re working in the social sciences, case studies—accounts of the personal experiences of other people—are a crucial part of your scholarship. (See our handout on  writing in the sciences for more information.)

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Princeton Correspondents on Undergraduate Research

Tips for Writing about Your Research Experience (Even if You Don’t Think You Have Any)

If you’re someone who hasn’t yet done formal research in a university setting, one of the most intimidating parts of the process can be simply getting your foot in the door. Just like the way your options can seem very limited when applying for your first job, asking for a research position when you have no “experience” can seem discouraging — maybe even to the point of causing you to question whether you should apply in the first place. With that being said, there are some simple tips you can employ when applying for research positions to highlight the link between your existing interests and the work of the position for which you are applying.

Illustrated resume on a desk being held by anthropomorphic tiger paws/hands. Tiger is wearing a suit. Desk is covered in writing/working items like pens, reading glasses, and coffee.

First things first: tailor not just your cover letter (for applications that ask for it) but your resume to the position for which you are applying. Even if you’re just sending a casual email to a professor to ask about the research that they’re doing, as a rule, it never hurts to attach your resume. I also like to think that submitting a resume even without being asked to shows that you’re serious about doing research, and have taken the time to put together a thoughtful inquiry into a position. If you’ve never written a cover letter or resume before, don’t fret. The Center for Career Development has some great online resources to help you create one from scratch. If you are looking for more individualized help, you can also schedule an appointment to get one-on-one feedback on your application at any stage in the writing process.

One of the things that I’ve found, however, is that the single-page format of a resume often isn’t enough space to include all of the information about every single thing you’ve ever done. Rather than trying to jam as many impressive accomplishments as you can onto a page, your goal should be to create a resume that gives a cumulative sense of your interests and experiences as they relate to the position for which you are applying. One of my favorite ways to do this is to create a “Research” section. “But Kate, what if I don’t have any research experience?,” you ask. Remember that paper you wrote about a painting by Monet in your favorite class last semester? Write the title down, or even a sentence or two that summarizes your main argument. The art museum you’re hoping to do research at will love knowing that your interest in their current exhibition on Impressionism is rooted in classes you’ve taken and the projects you’ve done in them, no matter how new you may be to a topic. Your interest in a specific research position has to come from somewhere, and your resume is an important part of demonstrating this to others.

What I would like to reassure you of is that it’s normal to be an undergraduate with very little research experience. The people reading your application —whether it be for an official program or even if it’s just a friendly email with a few questions— know that you are a student and will probably be excited to offer you guidance on how to get involved with more specific research projects even if all you have to offer at this point is enthusiasm for the topic. Working in a lab or with a professor on a research project is an opportunity designed to help you learn above all else, so it’s ok if you don’t know what you’re doing! It goes without saying that having little experience will make the final result of your research experience all the more worthwhile because of the potential to gain knowledge in ways you haven’t even imagined.

— Kate Weseley-Jones, Humanities Correspondent

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How do I cite personal experiences in APA format?

Personal experiences and knowledge generally do not need to be cited in an APA references page or within the body (in-text citation) of your paper. Personal experience and knowledge is part of your voice; it is what you bring to your paper.  If you use personal knowledge that is unusual or to make a statement that someone might question, however, you will want to find research to back your knowledge up. Read more in our answer on self-citing .

Personal communications . Frequently confused with personal knowledge and experience are personal communications (any information that is not retrievable, such as phone conversations, interviews, email, memos, and personal letters). Personal communications (interviews, conversations) need to be cited in-text, but not in the reference list. Click here to learn more.

  • Last Updated Apr 05, 2024
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You can expect a prompt response, Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM-4:00 PM Central Time (by the next business day on weekends and holidays).

Questions may be answered by a Librarian, Learning Services Coordinator, Instructor, or Tutor. 

How can I use my own personal experiences as a reference in my research paper?

It is very tempting to want to use things that we know based on our own personal experiences in a research paper. However, unless we are considered to be recognized experts on the subject, it is unwise to use our personal experiences as evidence in a research paper. It is better to find outside evidence to support what we know to be true or have personally experienced.

If it is not possible to find outside evidence, then you will have to construct your paper in such a way as to show your reader that you are an expert on the topic. You would need to lay out your credentials for the reader so that the reader will be able to trust the undocumented evidence that you are providing. This can be risky and is not recommended for research based papers. But even if you do use your own experiences, you would not add yourself to your References page.

Sometimes you will be assigned to write a paper that is based on your experiences or on your reaction to a piece of writing, in these instances it would be appropriate to write about yourself and your personal knowledge. However, you would still never cite yourself as a source on your References page. 

For assistance with APA citations, visit the APA Help guide.

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How To Put Research On Your Resume (With Examples)

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Find a Job You Really Want In

Research experiences and skills are an incredibly important aspect of many job applications, so it’s important to know how to put them on your resume correctly. Hiring managers and recruiters want employees who can help drive innovation by being able to apply research skills to problem solve and come up with creative growth solutions.

If you’re a job seeker looking to include your research skills on a resume , we’ll go over how to list research on resume, where you can include it on a resume, and give you some examples.

Key Takeaways:

If you don’t have traditional research experience, highlight the skills used for research that you’ve used in past jobs.

Consider creating a separate research section in your resume if you have a lot of research experience or merge sections, depending on which section you want to bolster with research.

Research experience is one of the best assets to include on a resume so be on the lookout for more opportunities.

how to put research on your resume

What are research skills?

Where to put research experience on your resume

How to include research on your resume, examples of research on a resume, how to put research on your resume faq.

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Research skills are any skills related to your ability to locate, extract, organize, and evaluate data relevant to a particular subject. It also involves investigation, critical thinking , and presenting or using the findings in a meaningful way.

Depending on what job you’re applying for, research skills could make or break your ability to land the job. Almost every job requires some research skills and you probably already have some of those skills mastered by now.

For most careers, research is a vital process to be able to answer questions. “Research skills” are not a single skill, but multiple ones put together.

Some skills that are necessary for research are organization, problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and specific technical skills, like coding, Excel, and copywriting.

Including research experience and skills on a resume can be incredibly flexible. When thinking about how to add it to your resume, you want to consider how the research experience adds to your resume.

Your research experience can be included in a few different sections of your resume. Some of those sections include:

Academic accomplishments

Research experience

Work experience/history

College activities

Volunteer work

Presentations and publications

Skills section

If you’ve had smaller research roles but no “official” research experience, you can highlight the skills associated with the types of research mentioned above in your job description under the work history section in your resume.

If your job history is a research position, then naturally, you would include research under the work history section. You can also merge your sections depending on what type of position you are applying for.

For example, you could create a “Research and Education” section or a “Research and Publications” section. If your research is not related to your education and you don’t have any publications, you can also detail it in a separate “Research” section in your resume.

To include your research on your resume, you should gather all the necessary information and then quantify your accomplishments to fit into specific sections. Here is a more detailed list of how to write about research experience in resume:

Gather all the necessary information. The first step is to collect all of the important details like the title of the research project, the location of the research project, the principal investigator of the project (if applicable), and the dates of the project. You will list these details much like you would list a company you have worked for in the past.

Read the job description carefully. Every resume and cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for. When a hiring manager puts a necessary qualification in their job posting, you must be sure to include it in your resume.

Make sure that you highlight the right types of research skills on your job applications and resumes.

Quantify your accomplishments. When describing your role on the project, you will want to summarize your accomplishments and deliverables. Hiring managers and recruiters love seeing numbers. When you write out the deliverables from your project, make sure you quantify them.

Incorporate into your work history section. If there were times when you used your research skills in your past employment opportunities, include them in your work experience section. You can also include publications, conferences you may have presented at, and any awards or recognition your research had received.

If you have completed research in an academic setting, then presentations (oral and poster) are an important part of the research process. You should include those details along with the titles of your publications.

Add to your research section. Other aspects of research that you can detail to make your application more competitive are adding skills specific to your project to the skills section of your resume.

These skills will vary depending on the subject matter, but some examples include coding languages, interviewing skills, any software you used and are proficient in using, managerial skills , and public speaking if you have presented your research at conferences.

Add research to your skills section. If the specific research you did is less important than the skills you used to perform it, highlight that in your skills section. That way, you don’t have to take up a lot of work or education history with slightly irrelevant information, but hiring managers can still see you have research skills.

Just be sure you’re more specific about a research methodology you’re an expert in because the skills section doesn’t give you as much room to explain how you leveraged these abilities.

Sprinkle research throughout your resume. If you have a lot of experience performing research in professional, volunteer, and educational settings, pepper it in a few different sections. The more hands-on experience you have with research, the better (for jobs that require research).

Let’s look at some examples of how research can be included on a resume:

University research example

EDUCATION Undergraduate Thesis, University of Connecticut, Dec. 2017-May 2018 Worked alongside UCONN English Department head Penelope Victeri to research the poetry of New England writers of the 20th century. Explored common themes across the works of Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Lowell. Performed online and in-person research on historical documents relating to each author , including information on the political, religious, and economic landscape of the US at the time. Analyzed poetic works of each author and drew on similar contemporary regional authors’ works. Prepared 20,000 words thesis entitled “Place, Allegory, and Religion: Three 20th Century New England Poets” and defended my written arguments to a panel of English professors.

Customer service research example

WORK EXPERIENCE Conducted interviews with 20 customers each week to gain insight into the user experience with company products Used Google analytics to determine which pages were driving most web traffic, and increased traffic by 11% Reviewed thousands of customer surveys and compiled findings into monthly reports with graphic findings Presented at weekly marketing meeting to inform marketing team of trends in customer experience with our products

Laboratory research example

RESEARCH Conducted experiments on rat brains by introducing various novel chemical compounds and levels of oxygen Ran electricity through brain slices to view interaction of different chemical compounds on active brain cells Prepared sterile samples for daily check and maintained 89% percent yield over the course of a 3-month study Presented findings in a final 15 -page research report and presentation to the Research and Development team

Examples of common research skills to list on your resume

Here are examples of research skills in action that you may have overlooked:

Searching for local business competition

Sending out customer satisfaction surveys

Summarizing current policies and laws in effect for a particular topic

Creating lesson plans based on current education standards

Reading literature reviews and implementing changes in clinical practice

Attention to detail

Problem-solving skills

Critical thinking

Project management skills

Communication skills

Why are research skills important?

Research skills are important because they can help you identify a problem, gather information, and evaluate that information for relevancy. Including your research skills on a resume will show hiring managers that you have the ability to suggest new ideas and help their organization adapt and change as the industry changes.

Some common research skills include:

critical thinking

Computer skills

Can I list research as a skill?

Yes, you can list research as a skill on your resume. Including your research skills in your resume can help show a potential employer that you have the ability to suggest new ideas and use critical thinking to find solutions to problems. Most research skills will use attention to detail, problem-solving, and project management skills.

California State University San Bernardino – Incorporating Research Project Experience on Your Resume

University of Missouri – How to Put Research on Your Resume

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Heidi Cope is a former writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog. Her writing focused primarily on Zippia's suite of rankings and general career advice. After leaving Zippia, Heidi joined The Mighty as a writer and editor, among other positions. She received her BS from UNC Charlotte in German Studies.

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  • Epistemic injustice, healthcare disparities and the missing pipeline: reflections on the exclusion of disabled scholars from health research
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  • http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3868-5765 Joanne Hunt 1 ,
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0205-1165 Charlotte Blease 1 , 2
  • 1 Department of Women's and Children's Health , Uppsala University , Uppsala , Sweden
  • 2 Digital Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center , Harvard Medical School , Boston , Massachusetts , USA
  • Correspondence to Joanne Hunt, Department of Women's and Children's Health, Uppsala University, Uppsala 751 05, Sweden; joanne.hunt{at}uu.se

People with disabilities are subject to multiple forms of health-related and wider social disparities; carefully focused research is required to inform more inclusive, safe and effective healthcare practice and policy. Through lived experience, disabled people are well positioned to identify and persistently pursue problems and opportunities within existing health provisions that may be overlooked by a largely non-disabled research community. Thus, the academy can play an important role in shining a light on the perspectives and insights from within the disability community, and combined with policy decisions, these perspectives and insights have a better opportunity to become integrated into the fabric of public life, within healthcare and beyond. However, despite the potential benefits that could be yielded by greater inclusivity, in this paper we describe barriers within the UK academy confronting disabled people who wish to embark on health research. We do this by drawing on published findings, and via the lived experience of the first author, who has struggled for over 3 years to find an accessible PhD programme as a person with energy limiting conditions who is largely confined to the home in the UK. First, we situate the discussion in the wider perspective of epistemic injustice in health research. Second, we consider evidence of epistemic injustice among disabled researchers, focusing primarily on what philosophers Kidd and Carel (2017, p 184) describe as ‘strategies of exclusion’. Third, we offer recommendations for overcoming these barriers to improve the pipeline of researchers with disabilities in the academy.

  • Disabled Persons
  • Quality of Health Care

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ .

https://doi.org/10.1136/jme-2023-109837

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Introduction

People with disabilities have been described as an ‘unrecognized health disparity population’. 1 Health disparity (or health inequity) is understood as an avoidable and unjust difference in health or healthcare outcomes experienced by social, geographical or demographic groups with a history of socioeconomic, political or cultural discrimination and exclusion. 1 2 Despite the passage of landmark disability legislation, including the UK Equality Act 2010, the US Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (adopted in 2006), disability-related health and healthcare disparities persist. Disabled people report lower levels of well-being on average compared with non-disabled people, are at increased risk of physical and mental comorbidity and are more likely to die younger. 1–3 There are multiple reasons as to why health disparities persist along the lines of disability; however, prejudicial biases, engendering structural barriers to care, play a critical part. For example, recently, the WHO 2 reported that people with disabilities are significantly more likely to perceive discrimination and stigma in healthcare contexts compared with non-disabled people. This is supported by a wealth of literature from across the world revealing institutional, physical and attitudinal healthcare barriers for disabled people, including medical professionals’ ambivalence or lack of understanding towards disability, lack of confidence vis-à-vis providing quality care and physically inaccessible clinics and clinical equipment. 4–7

Health and healthcare-related disparities also intersect with broader social disparities. For example, people with disabilities are less likely to be employed and earn less when they are in work, despite the fact that disability incurs higher living costs. 2 In the UK, government data from 2021 reveal a disability employment gap of 28%, 8 with a disability pay gap of 14%. 9 Recent figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 10 indicate that the unemployment rate among disabled people is over twice the rate for non-disabled people, with similar trends across other countries. 2 Perhaps unsurprisingly, disabled people are also more likely to live in poverty than their non-disabled counterparts. 2 11 Compounding matters is structural disablism: discrimination and stigma (woven into collective attitudes, organisational policies, legislation and infrastructure) that often go unnoticed by non-disabled people but can take a serious toll on individuals living with disabilities. In 2023, the UK’s Office for National Statistics reported that the suicide rate was higher among people with disabilities than any other demographic group. 12

To better understand and address such disparities, carefully focused research is needed. 2 In this regard, people with lived experience of chronic illness and disability can offer unique insights that can strengthen and help drive richer research, where disabled people are positioned equally as co-researchers, as opposed to the traditional dynamic of disabled ‘research subject’ to be passively studied. Through first-hand experience, via experiential or standpoint epistemology, 13 disabled researchers are often well positioned to understand how health-related policies and practices (informed through largely non-disabled research communities) may unwittingly harm or otherwise disadvantage disabled persons. 14 Researchers with disabilities may also be more motivated and well placed to perceive knowledge gaps, and to pose penetrating and uncomfortable questions necessary to galvanise change. Embracing viewpoint diversity, and the input of disabled researchers, could therefore represent a powerful pathway to improve understanding and to develop more inclusive health and healthcare policy and practice.

The history of the disabled people’s movement within the UK, 15–17 whereby disabled scholar-activists entered the academy and contributed to profound changes in social practice and policy, constitutes an exemplar of the potential value of viewpoint diversity and disability standpoint, the legacy of which continues today, most notably within disability studies, but also more widely within critical social sciences and humanities. 18–20 However, within health sciences—particularly those tightly tied to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)—there appear to be greater barriers to including disabled scholars and integrating disabled knowledges. 21–23 For example, research shows that the percentage of people with a declared disability is lower in STEM subjects relative to non-STEM subjects at first degree, postgraduate level and within the academic workforce. 22 Moreover, a 2020 data analysis brief from the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM 23 reported that the UK STEM workforce had a lower representation of disabled people relative to the rest of the UK workforce (11% vs 14%). Here, it is noteworthy that the analysis used the wider definition of STEM, that of ‘STEM(H)’ which specifically includes health and related fields. 23 Such exclusions are further compounded by intersectionality, the intersection and co-constitution of multiple forms of social (dis)advantage. 24 Indeed, the intersection of disability with other minoritised identities 19 21 23 is yet another reason to promote disability inclusion within the academy and beyond.

Despite the potential benefits that could be yielded by greater inclusivity, in this paper we describe barriers within the UK academy confronting disabled people who wish to embark on health research. We do this by drawing on published findings, and via the lived experience of the first author (hereafter, ‘JH’) who has struggled for over 3 years to find an accessible PhD programme in the UK as a person with ‘energy limiting conditions’ (ELC) 25 26 who is largely confined to the home. First, we situate the discussion in the wider perspective of epistemic injustice in health research. Second, we consider evidence of epistemic injustice among disabled researchers, in particular those with ELC, by situating this in the legal context in the UK, and by detailing the nature of barriers experienced. Third, we offer recommendations for overcoming these barriers in the academy.

A note on nomenclature: we recognise that person-first language (‘people with disabilities’) is the globally prevalent form. 18 As a self-identifying disabled person broadly ascribing to the British social model of disability, 16 17 JH tends towards identity-first language (‘disabled people’). Therefore, while recognising the semantic and ideological divergences embedded within different forms of disability-related language, 18 we have chosen to adopt both forms in this paper to reflect our case for viewpoint diversity.

Additionally, while recognising the heterogeneity of disability and disability-related exclusions, 19 we focus on ELC: health conditions that share energy impairment as a key experience and substrate of disability discrimination or disablism.

ELC include but are not limited to ‘medically unexplained’ or contested conditions such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, alongside ‘rare’ conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndromes. 25 26 Since ELC do not conform to socially prevalent (fixed, non-fluctuating, easily identifiable) stereotypes of disability, disablism largely manifests as clinical and social disbelief, resulting in ELC being poorly recognised and poorly researched through the lens of disability rights and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 25 26 Equally, while we focus on exclusions within the academic space, it is important to note that people with ELC (and wider disabled communities) are subject to marginalisation and exclusion in all social arenas, including education, employment and the healthcare system itself. 25–28 Moreover, measures to improve physical inclusion (such as wheelchair-accessible environments) are oftentimes ineffective or insufficient among people with ELC who are confined to the home, thus furthering marginalisation of this group. In this respect, we recognise that people diagnosed with mental health conditions (notably but not limited to agoraphobia or social anxiety) may be confined to the home and are subject to similar dynamics of disability-related disbelief and associated exclusions as evidenced in the ELC arena. 29–31 Therefore, while we focus on ELC, the following discussion and recommendations for academic inclusion may benefit others with ‘hidden’ or poorly recognised health conditions.

The importance of ELC-specific research is arguably amplified by the emergence of long COVID, another condition that sits well within the ELC umbrella. 26 The concept of ELC arose from research led by disabled people within and outside of the UK academy 25 26 and thus represents an example of the potential value of ‘disability standpoint’ in contributing to health and healthcare-related research gaps. Nevertheless, there is very little peer-reviewed academic literature explicitly focusing on ELC (for recent exceptions see ref 32–34 ). To our knowledge, and motivating this paper, there is no research exploring academic exclusions in the ELC arena through a lens of epistemic injustice.

Epistemic injustice

Epistemic injustice refers to a variety of wrongs perpetrated against individuals in their capacity as a knower or contributor to knowledge. According to philosopher Miranda Fricker, 35 it takes two forms: testimonial injustice and hermeneutic injustice. The former arises when an individual is unfairly discriminated against with respect to their capacity to know or contribute to knowledge. This form of injustice often arises because of negative stereotypes about a demographic group. For example, in the case of disability, testimonial injustice may take the form of global, unjustified prejudices about the intellectual or bodily capacity of disabled individuals to contribute to knowledge. Disabled people may, for example, be seen as lacking the stamina, strength, reliability or acuity to offer useful insights. Philosophers of medicine Ian Kidd and Havi Carel 36 sum it up as a ‘pre-emptive derogation of the epistemic credibility and capacities of ill persons’ that involves ‘a prior view, for instance, of ill persons being confused, incapable or incompetent, that distorts an evaluation of their actual epistemic performance’. Testimonial injustice can take the form of implicit or explicit discrimination on the part of the hearer, leading to an outright dismissal or discrediting of the contribution of individuals to discussions in which they might otherwise offer valuable insights.

As others have argued, many people with disabilities may have acquired valuable knowledge about their condition through lived experience that renders them experts on aspects of their illness, the nature of health services and the quality of provider care. 27 37 38 Notwithstanding, it is also important to clarify that living with an illness need not automatically afford epistemic privilege. Rather, the point is that a finer awareness is needed to move past unhelpful stereotyping, to appreciate the contributions to knowledge that individuals may make. This, with a view to avoiding global or unwarranted assumptions about the credibility of individuals’ contributions to knowledge formation activities.

Hermeneutic injustice represents a wrong which Fricker describes as the set of structural and social problems that arise because ‘both speaker and hearer are labouring with the same inadequate tools’. 35 This form of injustice arises when individuals are precluded from accessing, or can only partially access, resources that could improve understanding about their experiences. Because of this asymmetry, those with unequal access to resources can suffer additional disadvantages that serve to further undermine their status and impede understanding about their condition. Kidd and Carel describe two kinds of means—which they dub ‘strategies’—by which hermeneutic injustice can be explicitly or implicitly perpetuated. 39 The first includes a range of structural barriers to participation in practices whereby knowledge is formed. Kidd and Carel argue that these can encompass physical barriers and subtler exclusions such as employing specific terminologies and conventions that serve to exclude the participation of disadvantaged people who might otherwise usefully contribute to knowledge. 39 A related, second strategy of exclusion, they argue, is the downgrading of certain forms of expression (such as first-person experiences, affective styles of presentation or vernacular) as evidence of the diminished credibility of the marginalised group. This demotion, Kidd and Carel contend, serves to further frustrate the efforts of the disadvantaged individual to participate, compounding ‘epistemic disenfranchisement’. 39 In this way, hermeneutic injustice can lead to a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle of testimonial injustice.

In what follows, we focus primarily on evidence of hermeneutic injustice, including strategies of exclusion among disabled researchers with ELC, who are largely or completely confined to the home and who seek to contribute to knowledge formation activities within the UK academy. Before we delve into the evidence, however, we offer some contextual caveats. First, it is important to offer some legal context with respect to disability rights. On the most charitable analysis, we acknowledge that not every individual who is disabled can expect to participate in every research context. For example, some barriers—such as the design or location of laboratories—might preclude full participation among some disabled researchers even with significant adaptations. Our aim then is to examine forms of epistemic injustice that pertain to ‘reasonable adjustments’, a legal term that we will unpack. Since our focus is on barriers to people with disabilities in British universities, we focus on UK legislation; however, what we have to say doubtlessly applies to other countries and regions.

Evidence of epistemic injustice among disabled researchers

Background on uk disability legislation.

Under Section 20 of the UK Equality Act 2010, higher education providers in England, Scotland and Wales are legally bound to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities who require them. 40 Section 6 of the Act defines disability as the experience of an impairment that has a ‘substantial’, long-term adverse impact on a person’s ability to engage in daily activities. Section 20 clarifies that the duty to make reasonable adjustments exists where any provisions or criteria offered or required by education providers place disabled people at a ‘substantial’ disadvantage relative to non-disabled people. 40

Health scholars have identified vagueness and therefore ambiguities in how qualifiers such as ‘substantial’ and ‘reasonable’ are interpreted. 41 Moreover, it has been contended that ‘reasonable adjustments’ rely on a non-disabled and potentially ableist perspective of what is reasonable, while also placing the burden to prove eligibility for adjustments onto disabled people, thus individualising the structural problem of normalised discrimination. 42 As previously outlined, ELC are poorly recognised as forms of disability, and research demonstrates that people living with diagnoses that can be positioned as ELC struggle to gain the recognition necessary to obtain reasonable adjustments. 32–34 43 Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 explains that indirect discrimination occurs when one party applies a provision, criterion or practice that puts a person with a protected characteristic (such as disability) at a substantial disadvantage when compared with people without that protected characteristic. 40 44

The Equality Act allows for scenarios where discrimination may be justified (known as ‘objective justification’) in cases where providers can demonstrate that their policies or provisions constitute ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. 40 Among the considerations about what might constitute a proportionate means are the size of the organisation, the practicalities and costs involved. 44 However, these are seldom explicitly articulated as a justification for the status quo, and the resulting ambiguities (which ultimately can only be resolved by tribunal or court) mean—as we will next find out—that disability discrimination may inadvertently become normalised.

Evidence of strategies of exclusion

Despite an ostensible increase in DEI policies within the academy, 45 46 there exists considerable literature demonstrating experiences of physical and attitudinal barriers to participation in academic research among disabled students and academics, including those with diagnoses that sit within the ELC umbrella. 29 31–34 43 46 There is also evidence that disability-related inequities in higher education persist in terms of degree completion, degree attainment and progression onto skilled employment or postgraduate study, within and beyond STEM. 21 22 47 48 The experience of JH is that such disparities are deeply entwined with physical and attitudinal barriers to full epistemic participation within the academy. Drawing on research findings and situating these against the lived experience of JH, we now explore evidence of strategies of exclusion for disabled researchers that, we argue, could contribute to epistemic injustice.

Studies that reveal barriers to academic participation, among people with ELC and disabled people more broadly, focus on two principal scenarios: (1) experiences of higher education students who can attend ‘on campus’ but require accommodations, 29 33 43 and (2) experiences of academics (from PhD study level upwards) navigating workplace barriers pertaining to reasonable adjustments, employment and career progression opportunities. 31 34 46 49 Where these barriers occur, we suggest they point to evidence of hermeneutical injustice that may also be underpinned by testimonial injustice. Indeed, chief among themes across such literature is that of ableism, understood as ‘a cultural imaginary and social order centred around the idealised able-bodied and -minded citizen who is self-sufficient, self-governing and autonomous’ 50 ; this ‘social order’ is founded on global prejudices about disabled bodies and minds. 50 Reports of academic ableism are evidenced as manifesting through, inter alia, a lack of accessible buildings and equipment, institutional inability or unwillingness to facilitate disability-related accommodations, and lack of familiarity (or consensus) among faculty and non-academic staff as to what constitutes disability-specific DEI practice and policy. 31 43 45 46 Additionally, increasing literature probes the creeping neoliberalisation of academia, which is contended to intersect with and perpetuate ableism, most notably though institutional normalisation of competition and hyperproductivity as a reflection of ‘excellence’. 31 46 Relatedly, and notably among students or academics with health conditions that can be positioned as ELC, the question of whether or how to disclose disability and implications of (non)disclosure is receiving critical attention. 21 29 31 33 34 43

Furthermore, as previously outlined, scarce attention has been paid to ELC explicitly, especially among people with ELC who are largely or completely confined to the home, yet may wish to continue within or enter academic spaces and thus require remote access. JH’s experience is that some of these people are not only marginalised within the academy but may be excluded from accessing it altogether. This, it would appear, is owing to a failure of institutions to facilitate remote access programmes. Here again, to understand how strategies of exclusion operate, we must turn to legal considerations. In terms of what might be considered ‘reasonable’, the willingness of research institutes to extend remote access to students and faculty during successive lockdowns owing to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic 31 51 52 suggests that failure to extend such accommodations to disabled people who depend on them, and especially where research can be conducted from home, would be difficult to justify.

Yet, such remote access tends to be considered at best an ‘adjustment’ to preferred or ‘normal’ (non-disabled) practice, and provision appears to be patchy and poorly signposted; lack of clarity over which research institutes offer remote delivery programmes may thus constitute the initial hurdle. Some universities appear to offer remote PhDs within some disciplines but not within others, and the exclusions do not appear to be related to pragmatics such as requiring laboratory access. For example, according to JH’s enquiries, and information received, one UK research institute and member of the Russell Group (representing UK leading research-intensive institutions) offered distance learning PhD programmes in 2021 and 2022 within psychology, but not within sociology. For added context, JH’s research interests are interdisciplinary but primarily straddle disability studies (typically sited within academic schools of sociology and faculties of social sciences) and psychology. This is with a view to researching disability-affirmative, socioculturally and politically cognisant approaches to psychotherapy practice and policy. However, in academic fora, psychology and psychotherapy (often aligned with health sciences faculties) foreground heavily medicalised understandings of disability, and JH’s experience has been that psychology departments have not been open minded or welcoming vis-à-vis the prospect of integrating sociocultural and political perspectives, as per disability studies. In practice, this has meant that JH’s endeavours to find an accessible PhD have been limited to the purview of sociology. These disciplinary exclusions arguably represent the legacy of the reluctance of psychology, wider health sciences and life sciences to embrace disability in all its diversity. 21–23 50

In response to an enquiry as to why the above institution did not offer remote access PhDs in disability studies/sociology, the postgraduate admissions team informed JH: ‘All our PhD students undertake mandatory units which are only delivered in person’ (email, 10 February 2022). It is unclear how these mandatory units differ from units offered on remote access programmes. Indeed, a recurring motif throughout JH’s enquiries across various UK institutions is that further probing about potentially exclusionary policies results in ambiguous responses, or no response at all. Reasons for lack of remote access offered by other institutions included a mandatory requirement for direct (on-campus) contact with the PhD supervisor or the need to participate in onboarding sessions face to face on campus. However, lack of justification about why this was necessary was not offered.

Again, it might be expected that institutional willingness to provide remote access during lockdowns would serve as a precedent for remote access to become the norm rather than the exception. 46 However, in response to JH challenging lack of remote access provision on these grounds, the reply from the admissions team at another Russell Group university was as follows:

While during the last year some teaching and supervision has taken place online this is a temporary measure and not part of a formal distance learning course. Some supervision and teaching is also now taking place back on campus in person again. All ‘on campus’ programmes are subject to government mandated attendance requirements. (email, 28 January 2022)

When JH requested more details regarding these government-mandated attendance requirements, the admissions team declared that the enquiry would be passed onto another point of contact. Over 2 years later, no further details have been forthcoming. Ad hoc adjustments pertaining to remote delivery might be possible at some institutions, but it seems conceivable that these may be dependent on the supervisor’s individual preferences rather than policy, perhaps permitting prejudicial judgements about disability to interfere with decision-making.

Furthermore, for those fortunate enough to find a supervisor willing to ‘accommodate’ them, additional strategies of exclusion arise pertaining to funding via doctoral training programme (DTP) and research council consortiums. For example, a representative of the UK White Rose social sciences DTP 53 (covering seven UK higher education institutions in Northern England) informed JH that, in accordance with Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) policy, disabled students confined to the home are not eligible to be considered for funding. Further digging revealed that this policy is not limited to the White Rose DTP; for example, the UK Midlands Graduate School DTP, 54 covering a further eight UK higher education institutions, lists the same exclusion criteria on its website at time of writing. When JH challenged the White Rose DTP’s policy on grounds of (dis)ableism, a representative forwarded the following response from the ESRC:

UKRI [UK Research and Innovation, non-departmental body of the UK government responsible for funding research] terms and conditions confirm that UKRI funded students must live within a reasonable travel time of their Research Organisation (RO) or collaborative organisation to ensure that they are able to maintain regular contact with their department and their supervisor. This should also ensure that the student receives the full support, mentoring, access to a broad range of training and skill development activities available at their RO, as well as access to the resources and facilities required to complete their research successfully and to a high standard. Our expectation also reflects that we want to avoid students studying in isolation […] (email, 15 December 2022)

In light of the considerable evidence that scholars across many disciplines can work remotely, the assumption that disabled people cannot research to a ‘high standard’ while confined to the home is problematic. Additionally, the reasoning around avoiding isolation, while likely well intended, does not hold much weight from JH’s standpoint. Many disabled people frequently experience significant physical and emotional isolation through navigating a (dis)ableist society and develop numerous strategies (including use of remote access technology) to mitigate this; in this respect, they may even be considered ‘experts by experience’ in resiliently striving to manage isolation. 51 55 56 Social media, for example, is used by many disabled people to connect with others, share ideas on managing health conditions and disability discrimination and develop collective advocacy and activism initiatives. 55 Refusing to offer remote access on (partial) grounds that disabled people may not be able to cope with the ensuing isolation risks infantilising people with disabilities, and withholds one of the very tools that can facilitate inclusion and thus counter isolation.

Moreover, literature suggests that being on campus does not necessarily prevent disabled people from experiencing or overcoming isolation, notably emotional isolation or alienation arising from lack of accommodations and thus feeling ‘unwelcome’ or ‘less than’. 33 46 The ESRC’s reasoning would therefore appear to arise from a non-disabled perspective (or at least, a perspective not attuned to certain facets of disability culture). Funding-related barriers are aggravated by the general lack of other funding opportunities for disabled students. For example, while scholarships for other under-represented groups are justly offered across many institutions, 57–59 often with emphasis on recruiting traditionally marginalised candidates, similar much-needed initiatives for people disadvantaged through disability are conspicuously absent. This is particularly important to address since disability and economic disadvantage are entwined in a complex manner, 2 11 and because, as previously noted, disability is intersected with other forms of social (dis)advantage. 19 21 24 28

It is worth emphasising that the exclusionary practices pertaining to health-related research, as discussed here, may be more pervasive and entrenched than we have presented. Discussing the impact of academic ableism, Brown 46 notes that disability disclosure rates, though on the increase in undergraduate admissions, drop between undergraduate and academic employment level. Brown identifies two factors that might explain this: (a) disabled academics may avoid disclosure for fear that declaring disability would impede their career, and (b) disabled students may simply drop out of the academy. As the foregoing demonstrates, JH’s experience suggests that the second factor may be entwined with disabled students being excluded from the academy because they cannot meet ‘on campus’ attendance requirements. It is currently unknown how many fledgling academics with disabilities have been excluded from the academy owing to discriminatory policies and academic culture, but it seems likely that JH’s case is not exceptional. Recent research recounts that some disabled faculty are being refused remote working arrangements as lockdown accommodations begin to revert to ‘normal’ practice. 60 For disabled researchers in perpetual lockdown, such refusals might result in experiences such as those detailed here remaining unknown and thus unaddressed.

In summary, where a ‘leaky pipeline’ exists vis-à-vis academic representation of some historically oppressed groups, 61 62 it appears that there exists no pipeline at all for a subgroup of disabled people who cannot leave their homes due to a combination of body/mind restrictions and lack of social provisions such as healthcare. Yet, disadvantages created by refusing remote access accommodations to scholars with disabilities who are confined to the home are certainly substantial. Beyond the potential loss to collective wisdom, the hermeneutical injustice perpetuated by barriers to education and employment among disabled people results in what Kidd and Carel describe as a ‘double injury’, 39 since it leads to significant ramifications for the psychosocial well-being and financial security of those excluded.

Conclusions and recommendations

Despite an ostensible increase in commitment to DEI policy and practice, the academy is far from an inclusive space for disabled people. In the case of disabled people who are unable to leave the home, we might better speak of outright exclusions as opposed to marginalisation. The above discussion has demonstrated that various strategies of exclusion operate within the academy that serve to exclude some people with disabilities ‘from the practices and places where social meanings are made and legitimated’. 39 Such exclusions risk further marginalising an already hermeneutically marginalised group, with concomitant psychosocial, occupational and financial harms. Additionally, these exclusions incur a loss of collective wisdom that adversely impacts the development of inclusive, safe and effective healthcare practice and policy.

Although we urge the importance of universities facilitating remote access to disabled scholars, we add a note of caution. First, a remote access academy should be offered in complementarity with, as opposed to an alternative to, ensuring accessibility of academic buildings and equipment, or to otherwise supporting disabled people to attend on campus. This is especially important since we also acknowledge that remote access is not a solution for all disabled people. 52 63 Of note, while remote access can be understood as an assistive technology that helps support the health, well-being and social inclusion of people with disabilities, 2 the digital divide means that disabled people are also less likely to be able to access this technology compared with their non-disabled counterparts. Such marginalisation is owing to lack of devices, broadband connectivity or reduced digital literacy, underpinned by financial, social and educational disparities as already discussed. 1 2 63 Our promotion of remote access as an inclusivity tool does not negate the need to address this divide. Nevertheless, recent research has shown that a leading UK online education provider (University of Derby) has three times as many disabled students as the national average, 30 suggesting that remote delivery of academic programmes can be a significant facilitator of DEI. We therefore conclude by offering recommendations with a view to building on such strategies of inclusion.

Given the lack of familiarity vis-à-vis disability-specific DEI practice and policy, as reported in literature 31 45 46 and as experienced by JH, our first recommendation is for formalised disability equality training and education initiatives that specifically take account of people with ELC and those confined to the home. Since report of such training reinforcing disability-related stereotyping exists, 31 there should be greater emphasis on co-producing such resources with people with disabilities, including those confined to the home who are often excluded from public policy-making. Such initiatives, which could also beneficially target personnel involved in research councils and DTPs, should address implicit personal and organisational biases, facilitate understanding of how current policy and practices perpetuate (dis)ableism and promote a proactive approach to equity and inclusion, specifically in the case of people confined to the home. Disabled researchers and disability studies scholars have argued that an institutional culture change is necessary to move beyond a perfunctory engagement in, or basic legal compliance with, DEI initiatives; a foregrounding of the social model of disability and universal design principles has thus been proposed in developing DEI policy and practice. 29 31 46 The social model upends academically prevalent (individualistic) representations of disability and reasonable adjustments, by placing the onus for change on social structures and institutions as opposed to the people who are discriminated against. 16 17 In the case of ELC, we suggest that the social structures requiring greatest change to facilitate inclusion are attitudinal contexts, most notably disbelief. 24 25 In complement to the social model, application of universal design tenets to academic contexts, which involve building ‘accommodations’ into academic standard and managing disability-related diversity proactively as opposed to reactively, 29 31 46 should be extended to remote access. In practice, this means reducing the likelihood that disabled people have to ask and prove eligibility for reasonable adjustments. 42

Second, we recommend greater institutional transparency, including clear guidance for researchers with disabilities, vis-à-vis remote working policies. For many research and study programmes, online library access, supervision and other meetings represent acceptable accommodations, if not candidates for integration into academic standard as a complement to on-campus delivery. Such accommodations should be clearly signposted and, where remote working is not possible or government mandates apply, both transparency and strong justifications are required. In this regard, an institution outside of the UK has set a precedent. Uppsala University in Sweden has welcomed JH as research affiliate in the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, operating entirely via remote access. This approach, which embraces remote working as if it were standard practice (as per universal design principles), is invaluable in challenging the prevalent yet exclusionary academic notion of dominant (on-campus) practice and policy as ‘normal’ and ‘ability neutral’. It thus serves as an exemplar for disability-related best practice for UK institutions.

Third, the current funding system requires considerable revision to better include people with disabilities who are confined to the home. In cases where research projects can be conducted remotely, there is surely no justification for exempting this group of disabled people from being eligible to apply for grants and PhD stipends. As per our above recommendations for remote accommodations, information on funding eligibility should be easily accessible, with strong and transparent rationale for any exclusions. Additionally, existing initiatives to ring-fence funding for researchers from minoritised groups to study health-related inequities 64 should be extended to include disabled people. Without such measures, much-needed research might never be conducted. This article, which has arisen from disability standpoint, and both disability and academic allyship, has indicated a considerable research gap pertaining to how disabled students or academics confined to the home experience barriers to health-related research. With a view to addressing this research gap with the added value of disability standpoint, funding opportunities must facilitate the inclusion of disabled researchers. Yet, while some under-represented groups are supported through funding-related DEI schemes, 64 disability is often overlooked.

Finally, we recommend a more formalised and universally applied academic DEI monitoring and ombudsman scheme, both to assess DEI-related shortcomings and to support minoritised researchers in raising concerns. Disabled scholars have suggested using Disability Standard (a form of benchmarking used in business to assess inclusivity and accessibility) to analyse gaps in disability-related DEI practice and policy 31 ; practical application across UK universities appears very limited. Existing schemes to promote DEI within the education sector should ensure that disability, including disabled people confined to the home, is represented and consider how institutional compliance can be secured. ‘Advance HE’ is a UK non-governmental body that promotes excellence in higher education, an objective the body acknowledges as entwined with DEI. 65 While DEI ‘international charters’ pertaining to gender and race exist with a view to encouraging providers to commit to inclusion of under-represented groups, 65 an equivalent charter specifically for disability does not exist. Here again, we recognise that different forms of discrimination intersect and that race and gender shape disability. 2 21 28 Moreover, while we do not mean to overlook recent efforts among Advance HE and other bodies to include disability in DEI initiatives, 66 the voluntary nature of many of these initiatives (which ‘encourage’ higher education institutions to address more fully disability-related DEI) will likely allow the inequitable status quo to persist. Seeking to ground a collective institutional commitment to disability inclusion within legislation, or at the very least within a transparent ‘award’ system as with DEI initiatives pertaining to other under-represented groups, 65 would likely lend more gravitas to such schemes and ‘nudge’ research institutes towards greater accountability.

In summary, insights from scholars with disabilities can help to inform more inclusive, safe and effective health-related interventions, with further benefits for social inclusion. Current academic structures deny opportunities to the very people who are well placed to identify and research the most overlooked problems in our health systems. If we truly prize DEI, the academy must become more accessible to disabled people.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication.

Not applicable.

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X @JoElizaHunt, @crblease

JH and CB contributed equally.

Contributors Both authors contributed equally to all aspects of the paper. As corresponding author, JH acts as guarantor.

Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Competing interests None declared.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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The Auto Channel

Edge Content Delivery Network (eCDN) Helps Airlines Deliver At-Home Quality In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) Experience; Netskrt Paper Reveals during Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) 2024

VANCOUVER, British Columbia--( BUSINESS WIRE )-- Netskrt today published a new white paper for airlines who want to offer passengers the ability to stream their favorite shows using their own subscriptions, and reduce their responsibility as a content provider. Released during Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), the paper reveals how airlines, working with In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) providers, can upgrade existing systems or create IFEC experiences to handle bandwidth-intensive streaming video .

In related news, on May 28, Netskrt announced “ Netskrt provides edge caching technology for FlytEDGE, Thales’ revolutionary new digital In-flight Entertainment (IFE) Solution. ”

About Netskrt eCDN for Air

The Netskrt eCDN for Air combines cloud-based, title-aware machine learning for content ingestion and distribution, and onboard caching to reduce the network load and deliver high quality viewing experiences. The Netskrt eCDN technology is uniquely designed for the constraints of air environment and transforms content delivery to passengers from time and cost intensive work to a digital, automated process that ensures new, and old content, are ready to delight passengers.

About Netskrt

Netskrt Systems radically improves the ability for OTT providers to deliver a higher quality viewing experience to all their subscribers, wherever they are, while improving efficiency for the networks delivering the content. For transportation markets, Netskrt brings the rapidly expanding universe of direct-to-consumer streaming internet video on board. Netskrt’s eCDN solution is particularly well suited to live streaming of major sporting events and popular VOD content. Visit www.netskrt.io for more information.

Vivian Kelly Interprose for Netskrt +1 703 509 5412 [email protected]

IMAGES

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  4. Personal Essay

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VIDEO

  1. Undergraduate Research Experience Sharing 2021: Meeting with Undergraduate Researcher

  2. Use Your Brand to get that Job!

  3. Amnytas supply run on Griffon! 00:47:760 (current first place)

  4. Do you need research experience or background for PhD Admission?

  5. Personal Branding and Social Selling with Jen Seiger

  6. How to do research? and How to write a research paper?

COMMENTS

  1. "Me, Me, Me": How to Talk About Yourself in an APA Style Paper

    General Use of I or We. It is totally acceptable to write in the first person in an APA Style paper. If you did something, say, "I did it"—there's no reason to hide your own agency by saying "the author [meaning you] did X" or to convolute things by using the passive "X was done [meaning done by you].". If you're writing a ...

  2. Is it okay to discuss personal experiences or observations in

    Many of the papers I have read primarily use examples from their studies or hypothetical scenarios to explain models/theories, but I have only ran across personal experience examples in textbooks and not in academic review papers or theses. ... such personal experiences can strengthen the credibility of the writer. ... That is at best to be ...

  3. How to Use Personal Experience in Research Paper or Essay

    How to Use Personal Experience in a Research Paper. When you are crafting your easy using your personal experience, ensure you use the first-person narrative. Such a story includes the experiences you had with books, situations, and people. For you to write such a story well, you should find a great topic. That includes thinking of the events ...

  4. PDF Guidelines to Citing Personal Experience and Interviews in Research

    personal interviews, or what you know from personal experience is valid and can be used as evidence to support your argument. Using citations for personal experience and interviews should be a piece of the wider puzzle constituting your argument. Guidelines: The personal experience you cite should serve as evidence to support your

  5. What About Me? Using Personal Experience in Academic Writing

    Audio: And before I turn it over for questions, I also wanted to note that I think a paper review, which I don't think was linked on a previous page, but a paper review is a really great resource too when you're using this personal experience and you're not sure if you are telling too much or, you know, if you're being too passionate about your ...

  6. Common Knowledge & Personal Experience

    Common Knowledge. Common knowledge is information or ideas that are widely known, accepted, and found in multiple places. Common knowledge is context dependent, meaning that something might be common knowledge to one audience but not another audience. If you are paraphrasing common knowledge, you do not need to cite that statement.

  7. 11 Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing

    The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experience as well as a how-to guide. "Warp and Weft" contains a discussion of three students who incorporated narrative in their essays in three ways: as a structural frame, as an example when the research topic and personal experience overlap, and as a tool for discovery.

  8. Introduction

    In order to address these concerns, we the authors created a set of guidelines for students to cite their own personal experience and personal interviews in academic research papers that allows for the inclusions of more diverse forms of knowledge production. While there are still arguably some concerns with the convention of citations in ...

  9. Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing

    Abstract. Marjorie Stewart's essay "Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing" comes from the book Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 3. Stewart uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for ...

  10. Using Personal Experience as a Basis for Research: Autoethnography

    Articles on ethical issues in autoethnographic research are available in the Chapter 5 section of these online resources. Papers on engaging in autoethnographic inquiry. Exemplar autoethnographic articles. Autoethnography is quite different from other genres of research, in being based in first-person writing and reflection on personal experience.

  11. How to Use Your Personal Experiences in Academic Writing

    To incorporate your personal experiences into academic writing, identify the purpose, audience, and requirements of your assignment. Choose a topic or research question that interests you and ...

  12. Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

    Personal experience. Drawing upon personal experience [e.g., traveling abroad; caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease] can be an effective way of introducing the research problem or engaging your readers in understanding its significance. Use personal experience only as an example, though, because academic writing relies on evidence-based ...

  13. The "no first-person" myth

    Many writers believe the "no first-person" myth, which is that writers cannot use first-person pronouns such as "I" or "we" in an APA Style paper. This myth implies that writers must instead refer to themselves in the third person (e.g., as "the author" or "the authors"). However, APA Style has no such rule against using ...

  14. PDF The First Person in Academic Writing

    For these and other reasons, the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers specifically defines research papers as assignments that "require us to go beyond our personal knowledge and experience" (Gibaldi 3). Even Gesa Kirsch, an outspoken proponent of the authorial I, acknowledges that unrestrained use of the first-person perspective in ...

  15. Should I Use "I"?

    Each essay should have exactly five paragraphs. Don't begin a sentence with "and" or "because.". Never include personal opinion. Never use "I" in essays. We get these ideas primarily from teachers and other students. Often these ideas are derived from good advice but have been turned into unnecessarily strict rules in our minds.

  16. Tips for Writing about Your Research Experience (Even if You Don't

    Rather than trying to jam as many impressive accomplishments as you can onto a page, your goal should be to create a resume that gives a cumulative sense of your interests and experiences as they relate to the position for which you are applying. One of my favorite ways to do this is to create a "Research" section.

  17. How do I cite personal experiences in APA format?

    Answer. Personal experiences and knowledge generally do not need to be cited in an APA references page or within the body (in-text citation) of your paper. Personal experience and knowledge is part of your voice; it is what you bring to your paper. If you use personal knowledge that is unusual or to make a statement that someone might question ...

  18. Experience

    A student is writing an argumentative paper on welfare reform and has statistical evidence to support claims that the system is not working well. Instead of using the personal experience about a cousin who abuses the system as key evidence, the student shares data and then presents the personal experience as an example that some people may witness.

  19. How can I use my own personal experiences as a reference in my research

    Answer. It is very tempting to want to use things that we know based on our own personal experiences in a research paper. However, unless we are considered to be recognized experts on the subject, it is unwise to use our personal experiences as evidence in a research paper. It is better to find outside evidence to support what we know to be ...

  20. PDF Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writings

    appropriate for their purpose, how to make personal experience and narra - tive pull its weight in the essay, and how the ability to incorporate personal experience can translate into the ability to incorporate research. The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experi-ence as well as a how-to guide.

  21. How to Write a Personal Experience Essay With Sample Papers

    Writing an essay about a personal experience or relationship can be a powerful way of both discovering the meaning of your own past and sharing that past with others. When you write about something in your past, you have two perspectives: Your perspective in the present. The perspective you had at the time the true event occurred.

  22. How To Put Research On Your Resume (With Examples)

    The first step is to collect all of the important details like the title of the research project, the location of the research project, the principal investigator of the project (if applicable), and the dates of the project. You will list these details much like you would list a company you have worked for in the past.

  23. Epistemic injustice, healthcare disparities and the missing pipeline

    People with disabilities are subject to multiple forms of health-related and wider social disparities; carefully focused research is required to inform more inclusive, safe and effective healthcare practice and policy. Through lived experience, disabled people are well positioned to identify and persistently pursue problems and opportunities within existing health provisions that may be ...

  24. Edge Content Delivery Network (eCDN) Helps Airlines Deliver At-Home

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia--Netskrt today published a new white paper for airlines who want to offer passengers the ability to stream their favorite shows using their own subscriptions, and ...