What is SPN?

  • First and foremost, it is not everyone’s preference to write or to read, nor should it be. It is a commonplace in the humanities but a stranger in professional schools as well as in the social sciences and sciences.
  • It is but one tool in the scholar’s toolbox, functional for some, dysfunctional or nonfunctional for others.
  • It tells a good story and/or many good stories.
  • It features a clear point of view, an organizing theme, and/or a coherent argument.
  • It starts with the “I” and proceeds outward to the “you” and the “they.” The author’s distinct and honest voice is key. The author’s ideas are only as strong as the voice that delivers them. By the same token, absent the ideas, the personal voice can sometimes be seen as self-indulgent or overly confessional.
  • It uses personal stories to deliver the message.
  • It strives for an ideal mix of particularity and generalizability, concreteness and abstractness, practice and theory. SPN writing has four major components: it starts with the identification of key themes; then it connects these themes to the writer’s personal stories in order to exemplify and explicate the points being made; then it draws on relevant, pre-existing research and scholarship in order to ground and enrich the personal narrative; and, finally, it ends up with universalizable ideas and applications that connect with all readers in some way. Sha and Robert calls these four SPN components in order pre-search, me-search, re-search, and we-search.
  • It does not present the author as some omniscient, 3rd  person authority. The author’s voice is personal, clear, fallible, and honest. It is also humble and open-ended.
  • It generously cites other authors’ works and ideas. We call these references “proof-texts.”
  • It shows some passion. It is not a detached, “objective” examination of a topic. It is a thoughtful, first-person attempt to make a point or teach a lesson by drawing on the author’s own life experiences to provide context.
  • It tries to help the reader to see the world a little differently, from the author’s personal point of view.
  • It is editorially and technically meticulous.
  • It is more an exercise in creative writing than it is writing to fit a particular research formula, rubric, or template.
  • It takes personal risks.
  • It begins with the self-confidence that the author has a personal story worth telling and a point worth making.

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