Writing Tip: Self-Disclosure



Recently a reader who was enjoying the way I handled my own self-disclosure in The Polyamorists Next Door (where I talk about how my interactions with the polyamorous community affected my life and my research) contacted me to ask if I had an opinion about how zie might handle self-disclosure in zir own writing as both a member of and research investigating an altsex community.


Because it might be useful to other readers as well, I am including my response here:


The short answer is it depends a lot on what you are writing and for whom. In academic writing, if it is directly relevant to what you are writing then it is good to disclose up front (introduction &/or or methods section) what exactly is happening with you so as to give the reader context and a little bit of spice to keep them interested. Not in a salacious way and only when relevant, but a bit of self disclosure can make something that would be dry a little more engaging to read.
However, if it is not directly relevant then it can seem awkward and self-aggrandizing — look at how interesting I am! Me, me, me, and by the way, me.
Alternately, if you are writing for a more popular, non-academic audience, then I would definitely have a lot more of your own experience and identity as a way to structure the work, draw in readers, and establish yourself as a persona/brand across multiple writings. If you are thinking of a book, I would start with a chapter on who you are and why you are even studying this, plus your own experiences and identities (including both sexual and academic, to what ever degree you think appropriate in each circumstance).
If you are writing a research monograph then I would include a section of the methods section on your own relationship to the topic and the field, and how if at all it affected data collection, analysis, and findings. That sucks, because no one can claim objectivity in research with any legitimacy, but sex researchers who are part of altsex communities are expected to account for bias in a way that heterosexual researchers studying marriage and not called to account for their own involvement in heterosexuality. You have to give the context because it will appear sneaky if you don’t, and readers will wonder so you might as well tell them up front so they are not distracted by it for the whole book.
Do you want help with your writing? Dr. Sheff provides a wide range of writing services and academic coaching to help you ghost write your book, publish your thesis as a journal article, or turn your dissertation into journal articles and a book.

Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, CASA, CSE

One of a handful of global experts on polyamory and the foremost international expert on children in polyamorous families, Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has studied gender and
families of sexual minorities for the last 16 years. Sheff’s television appearances include CNN, and the National Geographic, and she has given more than 20 radio, podcast, print, and television interviews with sources from Radio Slovenia to National Public Radio, the Sunday London Times to the Boston Globe and Newsweek. By emphasizing research methodology and findings in her discussions, Dr. Sheff presents the kind of public intellectualism that encourages audience members to think critically regarding gender, sexualities, and families.

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  1. Thank you for posting this response here. While other life obligations seem to frequently pull me off-task from my writings, concerns about self-disclosure and by default revealing information about others whose identities could be discerned (if someone bothered to dig & research) has often stopped me from submitting articles or writings. You are very inspiring. Hope to interact with you again next time I’m in Atlanta.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Tracy, glad to hear it was helpful. Let’s do meet up next time you are in Atlanta!

      Cheers, Eli

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