A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

When writing becomes investigating

Pär SegerdahlWe write for many reasons. To remember, to instruct, to tell, to amuse…

Sometimes we write to investigate. Investigate what? Of course, something that we don’t really understand and therefore wonder about.

Writing is also a prestigious linguistic medium. Printed products (books and articles) often express the opposite of incomprehension and wonder. This is not surprising, since the printed product is the end result of long work.

This creates problems for the investigating beginner. One of the difficulties of writing about difficult things is to dare express your lack of understanding. You have to put your finger (or pen tip, or keys) precisely on your incomprehension.

Instead, one tends to quickly write up an impressive facade that hides one’s incomprehension. One mimics the style of the finished printed matter. One then starts at the wrong end. One starts at the end.

If you just slow down and ask yourself: What do I really understand here? What don’t I understand? And then honestly write it down – in the form of questions – you soon begin to write in a way that explores what needs to be clarified.

The moment your writing makes contact with your incomprehension, the writing becomes explorative. It will also come alive, because you don’t write as if you already were finished with everything. You make discoveries and you change during the work.

I would liken it to daring to ski down the slopes for the first time and dare to trust that you can turn back and forth so as to maintain a speed that you yourself can keep up with.

The equivalent of “turning back and forth” are the questions you regularly ask based on your incomprehension. Without the questions, you soon rush downhill and risk breaking your neck.

To write in an explorative way is to think. Therefore, philosophy doesn’t resemble a profession, because here it is your lack of competence that drives the work.

Pär Segerdahl

The Ethics Blog - Thinking about thinking


  1. Amal Matar

    Thanks, I am looking at writing in a complete different manner now. Though sometimes it is difficult to know the questions or what to ask, unless you uncover some of the explorative writing others did on the topic ….

    • Pär Segerdahl

      Glad to hear from you, and I think you are right about finding your own questions by engaging with others’ explorative work. Perhaps the questions turn up in the margin of what you read.

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