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Building Writing Skills

The ability to write comfortably, clearly, and often is one of the most important skills you can develop as a participant observer. Ethnographers who are not comfortable as writers produce few field notes and little published work. If you have any doubts about your ability to pound out thousands of words, day in and day out, then try to build that skill now, before you go into the field for an extended period.

The way to build that skill is to team up with one or more colleagues who are also trying to build their expository writing ability. Set concrete and regular writing tasks for yourselves and criticize one another’s work on matters of clarity and style. There is nothing trivial about this kind of exercise. If you think you need it, do it.

Good writing skills will carry you through participant observation fieldwork, writing a dissertation and, finally, writing for publication. Don’t be afraid to write clearly and compellingly. The worst that can happen is that someone will criticize you for ‘‘populariz?ing’’ your material. I think ethnographers should be criticized if they take the exciting material of real people’s lives and turn it into deadly dull reading.

 
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