Your Writing Playlist: No Scrubs by TLC

The second in our new series in which we use popular song to help you consider the oft-posed question: “Is my writing academic enough?”

Academic writing is about constructing a scholarly identity. You might not *feel* like an authority on a particular subject, but it’s necessary to *sound* like one in order to convince your readers they’re in safe hands.

You can begin projecting this authority from the get-go with an introduction that tells your readers:

  1. I know exactly what I’m talking about
  2. I know exactly what I want to say

We now refer you to TLC’s 90s feminist anthem, No Scrubs, as the perfect example of an authoritative introduction.

To begin with, the ladies – T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli – define their terms. You may notice that this series talks a lot about the need to avoid ambiguity in academic writing. Indeed, it’s crucial there’s no room for misunderstanding between you and your readers. In this case, you may be slightly mystified as to what a “scrub” is. Are the ladies declaring their refusal to wear protective overalls whilst working in a hospital? Are they happy with every other item in their Boots No. 7 gift set aside from that exfoliating face wash? It would be impossible for me to understand, let alone begin to agree with, their argument if I didn’t know what they’re rejecting in the first place. Luckily, the opening lines of the song inform me that a “scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly”. Moreover, the group helpfully explain that a scrub “is also known as a busta” – just in case I’m familiar with the concept, but happen to call it something else. I’m also impressed that TLC’s knowledge of their topic is such that they’re aware of variations in terminology.

When it comes to your own writing, you may think there is no need for you to define your terms in this way. After all, you’re writing for somebody who already knows them: your tutor. But remember that one of the reasons this tutor is reading your work is to assess your knowledge and understanding of the topic. So you know that they know, but they want to know that you know. Right? And maybe there are – as in the case of a “scrub” – several possible definitions and even synonyms. It’s important for your readers to know which definitions you’re using.

Anyway, once TLC has clarified exactly what they’re talking about, they get right down to outlining their argument. “No, I don’t want no scrub,” they declare. “A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me.” Straight away, then, we know what critical stance the ladies will be adopting in this song. They then go on to provide a rationale for this argument, stressing that this gentleman is being rejected because he is “hangin’ out the passenger side/Of his best friend’s ride/Trying to holler” at them. Justifying your claims in such a way is, of course, good practice in academic writing where much of your authority stems from having evidence to support your claims rather than leaving them unsubstantiated.

Is your writing as authoritative as it could be? Use our TLC editing checklist to make sure:

Terms: have you defined them?

Lay out your argument and/or aims in your introduction

Check you have supported your claims with evidence

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