Tag Archives: writing

What’s the Use of the Academic Paper? — Teaching, Learning, & Education — Medium

What’s the Use of the Academic Paper? — Teaching, Learning, & Education — Medium.

Well, to be frank, I think the open-ended closing to this essay is a huge cop-out (and one that we can’t typically get away with in academic writing!), but some of the information she cites is p interesting. The traditional classroom may be a relic of 19th Century industrialization, but wouldn’t updating it to fit current technology subject future generations to a similar wrong? The problem, here, is training students for their futures based on our current needs and realities.

And as a personal side note (coming from someone who excelled at academic paper writing, so take it with as many grains of salt as you need/want), I do think there’s value in learning to write formally and to adopt a voice that is uncomfortable. It’s a brain-stretching exercise that also exposes a lot about how written language operates and how to communicate with a variety of audiences. The long SAT-word-laden sentences of academic writing teach both readers and writers to have patience for complex ideas… but of course they can also sometimes obscure crappy ideas and impoverished thinking with highfalutin vocabulary. On the other hand, the seemingly relatable tone of a blog can serve a similar function, so why not study both together? Maybe it’s time for the contemporary classroom to get down with a little rhetorical theory to train a generation of critical thinkers.


Writing Repository

Howdy! I’ve missed this place, but I think I might be back for real this time after a few failed attempts to get Twitter and Tumblr famous. 😦 Also, now I’m directing potential employers to this site, so hi guys! Sometimes I write things.

Here are some of my latest CASE pieces going from most to least recent:

Fear Catch Me

For the sake of the archive! Here is the last article I wrote for CASE on how one sentence in Pidgin English reframed the way a group of Americans thought about fear. Also note the exchange of comments at the end… defending your own work is maybe one of the most terrifying tasks. (On the other hand, I am realizing that I am sometimes a little too timid to state the things I think I know with conviction either because I’m intimidated by people or afraid of being wrong. Rats.)

Okay, anyway, here’s the piece. And there will be a new one from me in just a few hours. Golly.

when casual becomes sloppy: a rant

To be fair to us all, let’s open with this disclaimer: this rant is going to be about as unstructured as they come… unplanned aside from the fact that this rage has been welling up in me for a while.  On the other hand, I suppose that’s why I’m calling this a rant and not an essay or a post or a rumination or something else, in which case my initial sentence was both unnecessary and redundant.  Rats!

At various points in my life, I have been asked to write on behalf of other people and I constantly come up against the criticism that my writing is “too formal” and that I should be more “casual,” or “familiar,” or “friendly” in what I write.  And, sure, when I’m writing for a professional or academic audience, I sometimes can’t quite control how elevated my register becomes.  I blog and allow myself occasionally to have unbridled ranting sessions precisely so that I don’t forget what it’s like to just write in my own voice as the sentences form in my brain… more or less (I did just go back and insert/excise a few words from this sentence tee hee).  I appreciate when people call me out for writing in a way that seems artificial because above all I want my writing to be authentic, but not at the cost of style.

Here’s my problem.  When people edit my work to be “less formal” that often means less correct or less precise.  I don’t want to alienate readers by using unnecessarily elevated vocabulary or opaque syntax (that’s not good writing, anyway), but I don’t want to forgo incisive language just because “make” seems more casual than “establish.”  Maybe that’s not the best example.  One of the first style rules I ever learned was about revision: if you can find a way to say it in fewer words or fewer syllables, do it!  Don’t waste time with clunky, pedantic language just to make yourself sound smarter; DO take the time to write with force and precision.  Sometimes that means using more specific, slightly less run-of-the-mill words.

I realize now that I’m running the risk of sounding elitist or self-aggrandizing.  I don’t think writing should be exclusive, and I know I’m not the best writer there ever was, but words are what I have.  They’re the tools I feel most comfortable working with, so I struggle when people are willing to sacrifice clarity for the sake of sounding off-the-cuff.  I’m really not talking about a literary vocabulary, here; I’m talking about understanding the rules of written English and using them to write clearly (or as clearly as a person can when they like parentheses and asides as much as I do).  Knowing how to write doesn’t make me (or you!) a more articulate or intelligent person than the next guy, it just means that you’ve got a knack for structure (and also were probably lucky enough to have an awesome English teacher at some point).  Spoken and written language aren’t the same; they follow different rules, so “speak-writing” can often lead to ambiguous communication.  Gestures, intonation, and suggestive trailing off disappear, and we need to replace them with syntax, diction, and punctuation.

Welp, now that I’m pretty sure that I have definitively established myself as a huge asshole, I’ll just get to what I think I’ve been trying to say… or what I want to say… or something.  Clear writing levels the playing field; in an ideal world, writing that exists in any generally accessible forum makes its content comprehensible to a broad reading public without “dumbing it down.”  Words and sentences can be precise without being academic or exclusive; they can be comprehensible without being simplified.  Heck, oversimplification can often breed sentences so vague that they might as well be written in academese.  Without context, the sentence “It is over there” probably means as little to you as Lacan’s assertion that “The fact is that the total form of the body by which the subject anticipates in a mirage the maturation of his power is given to him only as Gestalt, that is to say in an exteriority in which this form is certainly more constituent than constituted, but in which it appears to him above all in a contrasting size (un relief de stature) that fixes it and in a symmetry that inverts it, in contrast with the turbulent movements that the subject feels are animating him.”

Good writing enables learning, and I guess I don’t really need to prove that, but sometimes I feel like I do.  And it is almost definitely incredibly pretentious to say that I know what good writing is (look at all them adverbz!), but we all know what it is, because we can all tell when writing is easy to understand and when it’s not.

So there.  I’m really over the “too formal” criticism because it implies that there’s no place for careful writing anymore.  But there is.  Because there has to be.  And we take it for granted.

What Do Shakespeare And Bad Vampire Fiction Have In Common?

What Do Shakespeare And Bad Vampire Fiction Have In Common?.

Okay Upworthy, I see you.  In this video John Green:

  1. Becomes my new internet crush.
  2. Explains (for the last time, guyz!!) why reading – and reading critically – is valuable.  (Hint: pluralism.)
  3. Decries authorial intent as the useless concept it is.
  4. Gives a succinct description of the differences between spoken and written language, once again making the case for grammar.

Not necessarily in that order.  Enjoy!


So, if you’ve caught some of my passing (albeit BLATANT) references in recent weeks: I’ve been thinking a lot about hypertext these days.  And, I swear, I’m not trying to be abstruse or in any way condescending when I use the (admittedly specific) word “hypertext.”  Think about the presence of the “hyper” prefix in the word “hyperlink” and you’ll realize you know what I’m talking about.

These past few weeks – months, maybe – I’ve noticed that I’ve progressively engaged in fewer parenthetical digressions, while I’ve come to rely more and more, in all of my online writing, on hyperlinks.  I’ve grown concerned because I’m not sure hyperlinking/hypertexting my writing is particularly inclusive.  On the one hand, it helps readers experience my digressions in a different way: by seeing exactly the cultural and intellectual references/concepts affecting my thought process at very precise moments in my writing.  On the other hand, how hard is it, really, to just explain some of this stuff?  Would it actually kill me to demonstrate to my audience that I understand what I’m talking about well enough to explain it?

And anyway, I’ve gone from assuming that my readers already know who someone like Roland Barthes is, to assuming that they have the time and gumption to read “The Death of the Author” in its entirety to understand a single brief reference I make in an article about writing.  Problematic maybe.

This is why I’ve been thinking about hypertext.

Hypertext, at its most basic, is a style of layered annotation that Wikipedia figures might find an early example in the Talmud (citation pending, ironically).  My impressions, though, have led me to believe that hypertexting deals with absences.  It becomes an obsessive/excessive process of amplification, of trying to fill in the gaps between what I’m saying/writing and what I’m thinking.

Language explodes.

James Joyce’s Ulysses is an oft-cited example of hypertext fiction, crammed as it is with allusions and clashes of form and content that force words to mean more than what they are, to be several things at once.  An easier example might be the pun – a highly self-contained hypertextual mode of communicating, often asking a single word to enclose a contradiction or absurd juxtaposition.  Either way, a single pun and all of Ulysses, compact as they might seem, unfold into meaning.  One word explodes into several.  (And now I’m wondering about the dictionary…)

I use hypertext in a way that I believe to be relatively direct, but I worry when I see its tortuous potential and history.  In Adam Shatz’s recent review of Derrida: A Biography:

“[Derrida’s] wildest book, Glas (1964), was a hypertext avant la lettre featuring two columns of text: on the left an essay on Hegel’s family; on the right, a breathless, relentlessly punning homage to his friend Jean Genet, dilating on his treatment of flowers, crime, and hard-ons.  The objective was to produce ‘a contamination of a great philosophical discourse by a literary text that is reputedly scandalous.'”

Here’s the thing, this is an awesome idea/project, but Derrida doesn’t give a damn about his readers.  In fact, he rejoices in obscurity.  I do care about my readers. I’m writing on the Internet, srsly!  So, now I’m worried that, while hypertexting has made me a more rigorous and self-aware thinker, it has also made me a lazier writer.


Guys, I just can’t stop writing about Skins for CASE.  It’s crazy.

Sorry about my absence yesterday; I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about hypertext, which will probably appear on here as word vomit next week!