forget angry birds, make mine angry writing

I’m about to write another angry book. That is, a book motivated by anger. Real, proper rage. I’ve already written two angry books, and they are probably my best. I want to tell you about angry writing, because I keep reading writing advice that says scholarship should be dispassionate. You know, academic writing should always be objective, calm, well behaved. Right? Well, no. Not at all. 

I need to say first of all that writing an angry book doesn’t mean that I get to throw all scholarly standards out the window. It doesn’t mean that I only look for evidence that supports my point of view. It doesn’t mean that I write without due attention and care to the ways in which my argument is logically staged. It doesn’t mean I just engage in bile-filled polemic. No. Not at all. 

Writing from a position of anger means that I not only want -but also need – to make a case very persuasively. I have to stand on solid ground. My scholarship, if anything, is actually better when I’m writing about an anger-making topic than when I care less. That’s because when I write from anger I work hard to marshal the most convincing evidence that I can find. I am determined to deal with all possible objections. I want to make absolutely sure that I have covered all of the relevant literatures that are pertinent. I want to make it really difficult for my case to be knocked down.

Writing from a position of anger also means that the actual production of text becomes of critical importance. I want to produce writing that will keep the reader interested. I want to use metaphors that are gripping as well as apt. I want to use description and quotation so well that the reader nods their head and says “Yes that’s how it is.” I want to write so that it’s close to impossible to ignore the argument being made.

This all means that I will read, read and read and then revise, revise and revise until I am confident that my text and my case are as strong as I can possibly make them.


I want to tell you this because we academics do not always come clean about the commitments and emotional engagements that underpin our research and writing. We maintain that scholarship is driven only by abstract curiosity, by a peculiar kind of detachment from life. I don’t think that’s always the case.

I can point to many topics where I am pretty sure that some level of researcher emotion is involved.  Researching almost anything to do with health and well-being, the environment or social justice for example is likely to be driven by – or provoke – powerful emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and grief.  I’m sure you can add more to this list.

Writing from anger is not a problem, it seems to me, as long as we are able to keep to rigorous standards of scholarship. Indeed, rigour and standards are our good friends. As both Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault argued, scholarly traditions of evidence and reason are the basis of our expertise. And it is expertise that allows us to make potent and grounded interventions in, and pointed commentary about, the things that matter.

And indeed, conviction, sound scholarly arguments and finely honed rhetoric are absolutely necessary to deal with the kinds of opposition and political rhetoric that might be directed our way when our angry work becomes public. You see angry books enter territory where there are heated debates, high stakes policy and firm position taking.  In those circumstances, we must have research and writing which provide us with a solid place to stand/speak.

I’m certainly hoping this next angry book will be good. I’m hoping it will stand up to the opposition it will provoke. 

In the meantime I’ve got even more reading and research to do before I put hand to mouse.

Photo credit: Pingz Man

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, anger and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to forget angry birds, make mine angry writing

  1. geraldine461 says:

    You’ve captured my interest and I’m curious to know what your book is to be about. Can you give us a clue?


  2. wanderwolf says:

    I think it’s also easier to get an angry writing piece done and to edit it. The emotion behind it makes one invested in its success, and writers know how to make a piece successful, even if we don’t always have the energy to do so.
    I just wanted to point out though, that your kitty cat is yawning, not really angry, but maybe there’s something to be said about that too 😉


  3. Cat says:

    Amen! My August drafts were saved as “The Cranky Fed-Up Thesis”… The result is that it has now morphed into “The Bold Brave Thesis”!


  4. Shirley says:

    Thank you very much for this insightful and thought-provoking post. The title arouses my strong curiosity to read it through. Love, care, enthusiasm, accountability and empathy often stimulate people to write something to support this society and make it better and better. However, these negative emotions such as injustice, anger, fear, sadness and grief can exert people’s full potentials to explore and find the hard evidence for this unfair treatment, to find the causes of anger, fear, sadness and grief. These negative emotions do maximise people’s knowledge, ability, power, discourse, thoughts , intelligence and action to explore the issues in a holistic approach, It stimulates people’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to explore these issues in a different way. It is a strong way to dig deeper causes of the problems and find better solutions to these problems effectively.


  5. katie says:

    You’re so right Pat: writing from a position of anger and with passion about our research or related scholarship makes it real and engaging.


  6. Jonathan O'Donnell says:

    Write angry.
    Write often.

    Most of my best Research Whisperer posts are fueled by rage (which is a different type of anger). That is why Tseen checks everything I write before we post (well, that and stupid tpyos).

    Thanks for another great post.


  7. rabikom says:

    This is very encouraging indeed. There is lots of negativity around politically driven, angry writing in academia. From ‘it says more about the writer than the issue in question’ to – it is ‘too emotional and thus unreliable’. Disciplines other than Cultural Studies and the Humanities tend to stifle anger and any ideological debates. Academics avoid personalisation of research, with some great exceptions, of course. The seperation between the personal and the political is still dominant, more feminist work is needed. And the seperation between research (work) and personal life (private), while it protects us from exploitation, it can lead to depoliticisation of emotions and delegating them to home sphere: have a drink with friends and forget about it. Or rather – write an academic book!


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