Sometimes I choose articles for my links posts because I have something particular that I want to add to the topic. This week, however, I just want to be sure that as many people as possible see this great piece by William Germano. Even the title is interesting: Do We Dare Write for Readers? Germano, as most of you will know, is a wonderful writer and an insightful analyst of developments in academic writing and publishing. In this piece, he discusses the role of the reader and the way that academic writing, as it is often practiced, fails to serve that reader well. His analysis is informed by recent technological shifts in the way we read, but I think his argument would work just as well without the historical specificity: academic writing that strives for complete self-sufficiency can end up excluding the reader to the detriment of its overall vitality.
To convey this point, Germano characterizes academic writing as a snow globe: a smooth impermeable shell over a carefully staged scene with limited action. What I love about the snow globe image is the way it conveys the sealed-off quality of so much academic prose. Have you ever gotten inside a snow globe? Me either, but you can imagine that the experience would be messy and toxic, rather than interactive or instructive. Germano wants to supplant this notion of academic writing as artifact with a more dynamic notion of academic writing as a tool. A tool, of course, is something the reader can use, something that, as he says, “has consequence”. Germano uses the image of a machine to convey the more dynamic sense of writing as a tool. In keeping with his souvenir motif, I immediately found myself thinking of it instead as a map, one of those ones with a route traced out with little stylized footprints. A map of this sort tells its audience the truth as the creator understands it and yet leaves room for the audience to use that truth as it sees fit.
Germano concludes his piece by describing his conception of academic writing as less polished and more engaging:
I’m advocating for a riskier, less tidy mode of scholarly production, but not for sloppiness. I’m convinced, though, that the scholarly book that keeps you awake at night thinking through ideas and possibilities unarticulated in the text itself is the book worth reading. It may be that the best form a book can take—even an academic book—is as a never-ending story, a kind of radically unfinished scholarly inquiry for which the reader’s own intelligence can alone provide the unwritten chapters.
It’s a challenging model, especially for novice academic writers who may be looking to replicate rather than challenge existing norms. But it’s also a compelling vision of writing as essentially open to what it does not itself contain. And however we choose to orient ourselves to this issue, we will be better writers for having reflected on Germano’s artful elaboration of the tensions within academic writing.
Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter
From @scilogscom, an interesting account of the many ways in which jargon is a relative term.
Congratulations to the U of T participants in the Ontario Three Minute Thesis competition. Well done!
From @nprnews, using ‘yo’ as a gender neutral pronoun: ‘Yo’ Said What?
From @evalantsoght, the different types of writing we can do ‘from day one’. My take on writing early.
I’ll believe anything that advises me to get more sleep! From @GradHacker: Sleep in Graduate School.
From Lingua Franca, a very fun post on ‘slash’ as a written out form of punctuation.
From @NewYorker, a lyrical account of the existential mystery at the heart of the decision to do a doctorate.
From @literarychica, a great post on the dearth of options for writing support for doctoral writers.
From @ProfHacker, a profile of the Digital Public Library of America.
From William Germano, a must-read on academic writing. Calling for writing that is engaging, open, and consequential.
From @ThomsonPat, part two of her discussion of PhD by publication.
From @ThomsonPat, an important post on the shift towards ‘PhD by publication‘ and the role of the integrated thesis.
From Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint blog, insightful advice on words that may betray a weakness in presentation slides.
From @DocwritingSIG, thoughts on writing the acknowledgement section of your thesis.
From @fishhookopeneye, helpful advice on how to explain academic work experience in a non-academic world.
From Lingua Franca, William Germano addresses the question of academic titles and rank.
From @sciam, encouraging graduate students to blog for the good of their writing.
From @evalantsoght, a list of common mistakes. Every thesis writer should be keeping a list like this!
From @chronicle, “Why STEM Should Care about the Humanities”.
From @GradHacker, advice on thinking strategically during graduate study: going beyond ‘creativity and hard work’.
From @UVenus, interesting reflections on different models for publishing doctoral dissertations.
A question about originality posed to Leiter Reports generates an interesting conversation in the comments.
From @tressiemcphd, a great analysis of why “don’t go to graduate school” is problematic as a blanket prescription.
From @qui_oui, an excellent post on what it means to say that we are producing ‘too many PhDs‘.
Love this @ProfHacker post on Inbox Zero. It’s not about the Zero, it’s about limiting the power of the Inbox.