Links: Drafts and Formatting, Teaching and Productivity, Writing and Relativism

Here is something from the new Lingua Franca blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education on excessive formatting in manuscripts. The author, a senior editor at the University of Chicago Press, is making an important point about manuscripts: editors don’t want complex formatting. All that formatting just has to be stripped out, a process which is time-consuming and which can, potentially, lead to inadvertent changes to the material. As a writing instructor, my interest—as I have mentioned before—is keeping drafts free of fancy formatting and thus keeping them easy to revise. As I write this, I realize that enthusiastic formatting may be more than just a random phenomenon, at least in my writing process. I’m pretty sure I turn to formatting for comfort when writing is going badly; the less confidence I have in what I am writing, the more likely I am to start messing around with fonts and footers and subheads. That way, even if my work sounds terrible, at least it will look like a real paper. Needless to say, this is a counterproductive strategy. Not only does the premature formatting add nothing, it may well act as an impediment to digging into a draft and making substantive changes.

Here is a report from Newswise on some new research on STEM students who supplement research with teaching. The research suggests that time spent teaching may actually improve students’ abilities “to generate testable hypotheses and design experiments around those hypotheses”. The researchers suggest that this improvement may simply come from the process of explaining complex issues to students and from having to look at research problems from multiple perspectives. The findings make intuitive sense, so it is interesting that teaching and other activities are so often seen as distractions for graduate students rather than as valuable professional development.

Finally, here are some remarks from William Zinsser on the cultural dimensions of learning to write in English. His audience is journalism students, but the ideas may also be of interest to academic writers more generally. Most multilingual graduate students will benefit from having a good working understanding of how academic writing in English may differ from academic writing in their other language(s). Of course, no writing teacher will want to reify the cultural differences in academic writing. But students themselves—through alert reading and sensitive comparisons—can come to a valuable understanding of different practices of academic writing. I think that some relativism about ‘good academic writing’ is of value to students who may otherwise feel that there are universal standards of academic writing that are simply oblique to them.


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