Writing as Discovery: Investigating a Hidden Component of Method

Leonard Da Vinci, Codex on the Flight of the Birds (excerpt from Folio 8 recto)

Co-hosted by the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research and the Australian National University’s Humanities Research Centre, this symposium brings together major thinkers from across the disciplines to discuss writing’s role in generating discovery. When scientists and scholars compose papers, articles and monographs, is it really only a matter of “writing up” what they by then already know? Could it be that we also make discoveries through the struggle of working out just how to write about them?

One of the few studies in this area concluded that scientists regularly started writing prior to the end of experimentation, to bring clarity to what they were trying to achieve, that major discoveries occurred in the course of revision and that collegial input at the review stage actively changed findings (Yore, Hand and Priam 2002; confirming earlier work by Holmes 1987). But mostly the matter is obscure, and this is true outside the STEM sector as well. When Michel Foucault’s editors commented that the way he composed his books “should be an object of study in its own right” (Fontana and Bertani, 2003), they underlined that the writing practices of even the most cited figures in the contemporary humanities are obscure. Nor is it clear to what extent writing functions as a vehicle for discovery in the social sciences. The writing practices of scholars and scientists remain “significantly undertheorised” (Aitchison and Lee 2006). Yet we all write.


  • Nobel Laureate in Physiology and National Trust Australian Living Treasure Professor Peter Doherty
  • Author of over 35 U.S. patents for the treatment of cancer, Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, Microbiologist Professor Yvonne Paterson
  • Filmmaker, Cultural Studies Scholar and Former Creative Director of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image Professor Ross Gibson
  • Labour Economist, former editor-in-chief of Labour Economics and novelist Professor Alison Booth
  • Winner of the NSW Premier’s Biennial Prize for Literary Scholarship and Head of the Humanities Research Centre Professor Will Christie
  • Novelist, creative writing researcher and former Fulbright scholar in Veterinary Science, Doctor Lucy Neave
  • Poet and scholar in poetics, Associate Professor Paul Magee


Presentations will include panel discussions, live interviews and an open workshop. All are invited to attend and to contribute their own disciplinary and creative perspectives to the discussion.




Date & time

Fri 09 Nov 2018, 9am–5pm


Sir Roland Wilson Building


Humanities Research Centre
+61 2 6125 4357


Updated:  27 July 2018/Responsible Officer:  Head, Centre/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications