Thursday, August 11, 2005

Worth reading

If you're in anyway involved with academia. New Kid on the Hallway is talking about academic writing, and she gives some advice that I'm going to keep in mind. Especially this.
But if I try hard, I can think of ways in which I've become a better writer. Some are directly attributable to my graduate advisor: I no longer use passive voice. Almost EVER. (Yes, there are legitimate uses of the passive voice, but really, very few of them occur in academic historical writing. Besides, I figure if I don't use it at all, it averages out all the academic writers who are over-enamored of it...) I also make sure to STATE MY ARGUMENT RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PIECE. I used to be one of those people who led you through the paper to reach the conclusion (which was because I never knew what my conclusion was while I was writing), and under my advisor's training I have now figured out to write the paper, then take the conclusion and plop it at the beginning. And to make that argument REALLY CLEAR.

My students have helped to reinforce the latter lesson: I HAVE TO MAKE MY ARGUMENT REALLY CLEAR. Because I discovered, as doubtless many of you reading this have too, that if it is possible for a student to misunderstand your point, they will. And while sometimes yes, it really is the student's fault, other times it has been mine. So I have become obsessive about clarity, and about connecting all the pieces of my work together so that the reader (like the student) can be in no doubt about what something means and why it is that I'm telling it to them in the first place.

See also what One Bright Star has to say.