Here is an interesting discussion from Rachel Toor in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the writing feedback that is given to thesis writers. Surprisingly, she is discussing what to think when someone says that you ‘write too well’! Toor addresses two possible meanings of this odd utterance. First, she discusses the idea that good writing is somehow inappropriate and suspect in a dissertation. Second, she considers whether ‘you write too well’ is a sort of code for ‘your ideas aren’t that good’. Needless to say, using the term ‘good writing’ as that sort of backhanded compliment would be an outrageous misuse of the term. Toor sums up what one should do if confronted by this unexpected comment: “… if someone ever tells you that you write too well, ask him for an explanation and be prepared to hear something that will cause you to do more work. If, however, he proceeds to make the case that the language shouldn’t matter in scholarly writing, that clarity isn’t important, that good sentences are a waste of academic time, sue that idiot for scholarly malpractice.”
This recent column, also from The Chronicle of Higher Education, covers familiar ground: the graduate student experience. Between the article itself and the vigorous comment stream, the pertinent issues—micro and macro—are well covered. I kept the link but thought it unlikely that I would include it here—what else is there to add? But then I saw this related but very different post from the ProfHacker blog on post-academic careers; the post highlights the value of a good understanding of our professional options and our own vocational inclinations. My question, after reading these two articles, is how the narrative of graduate student misery affects the development of such awareness. It seems possible that the general and accepted level of unhappiness about graduate school may serve to obscure specific unhappiness. If all graduate students are miserable and expected to be so, how does any individual graduate student learn that he or she might just not like this type of work? Similarly, it can be hard to interpret the pleasure derived from non-academic work when such work is often framed as nothing more than an illegitimate way of avoiding the legitimate tasks of academic work.
Lastly, here is something fun on the limitations of spellcheck programs. You’ve probably read or seen something like this before, but Taylor Mali’s enthusiastic wordplay (and occasional profanity) is sure to focus your attention on what your spellchecker might be missing.