Writing is like eating. A diet of junk food weakens the body. A diet of prose choked with jargon, and it’s only a matter of time before our own prose becomes larded with "posits," "delineates," and "imbricates."
I teach a course on scholarly writing for students at the end of their Ph.D. program. I define Stage 4 prose decay as the moment when "mediate" is the only verb left in their vocabulary. I start the class with an exercise. I take a random page from a prestigious scholarly journal and make them compute the average number of words in each topic sentence. Then I take a page from whatever Jill Lepore New Yorker article happens to be my favorite and have them do the same. The last time I did this, the average for the "prestigious" journal was 46 words (versus 15 for The New Yorker), a number so outrageous that, whatever goals the author had in mind, communication wasn’t one of them. When we’re done I can see the bemused looks on students’ faces. What have we become, they ask.
Wineburg: In a course last semester, I asked third-year Ph.D. students to write an abstract of an article they aspired to publish. In class, I had them put aside their abstracts, take out a sheet of paper, and rewrite the same abstract in language their next-door neighbors or great-aunts could understand. I then arranged students in pairs and had them exchange their laser-printed originals along with their handwritten rewrites. Not surprisingly, students preferred reading the handwritten versions. They were more straightforward, less jargony, and more to the point. But what I didn’t anticipate was the heartfelt confessionals that followed. To a one, students testified that rewriting their abstracts in plain language helped them understand at a deeper level what their study was about. In other words, polysyllabic strings of "mediations," "peripheral participations," "hegemonies," and "cultural tools" muddled their thinking.
Scholars Talk Writing: Sam Wineburg How a Stanford professor, known for his work on "historical thinking," learned to trust his own voice, By Rachel Too
lunes, 17 de agosto de 2015
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