QUESTION: I want to be an “original thinker” and to have it reflected in my writing. Yet when I read one of my finished papers, it doesn't seem original at all. What is the key to academic originality?
We are veering into philosophy. A wise man long ago wrote that it is vain to believe that an “original thought” (or concept or statement) actually is original. The irony is that the wise man wrote down his observation as if it were something new! Perhaps he believed it needed repeating. The lesson there is that original truth indeed is quite rare, but rediscovered truth also is worthy of exposition.
So in your papers, strive to produce something insightful, if not revelatory. Start at the earliest of stages—during topic selection. If a subject seems to have been examined from every angle, choose another one. Or when a topic is assigned, choose a proposition least visited by previous writers, and then rigorously dig into it. Academic writers who are willing to break ground in topic selection and research are more apt to produce a paper that breaks ground in its conclusions.
Finally, strive for originality in writing the paper. Even a tired topic or thesis has some hope of redemption if it is couched in fresh language. This means banning clichés and overused phrases, and using crisp, active language containing engaging imagery and lucid description. If there is a “key” to originality, it is to cultivate personal independence in thinking and writing. Think independently. Reject copycat language. Take the initiative. Be yourself. You are an original, aren't you?