You People Are the Best

I’ve been floored by the positive response to my academic valentines this week. Honestly, that you are finding them amusing makes me pleased as punch. Thanks for making this Valentine’s Day exceptionally...

New Valentines for Academics

New academic valentines have been added for 2015! Find them, and last year’s, here. Happy Valentine’s Day, colleagues! UPDATE: By popular suggestion, new valentines have been...

You’re Never Writing for Your Academic Doppelgängers

I often say that as an editor, I try to inhabit the perspective of an intelligent nonexpert. Yes, by training I’m a specialist in the field of religion, but even when I’m editing books and articles in religious studies, I’m never an expert in the specific subject matter being analyzed. That’s because my religion PhD is the product of a lot of choices that aren’t written in fancy display type on my degree. There’s some breadth to the degree, certainly, but within religion, I focused my studies on scriptures. Within scriptures, I focused on the Bible, and the New Testament, and the letters of Paul, and his Letter to the Romans in particular. And of course I don’t just approach that material from any old perspective: I employ a signifying-on-scriptures hermeneutic, identify myself as a feminist interpreter, and draw on ideological criticism. My religion PhD is not your neighbor’s religion PhD. So virtually all the manuscripts I edit are not really in my precise area of research expertise. Sure, some projects overlap with my training more than others, but for an editor that matters less than a commitment to adopting the role of intelligent, interested nonexpert. Only in that mindset can I effectively advocate for the proverbial reader, which, when you get right down to it, may be the most meaningful aspect of my work. Alas, even though audience advocacy is a significant part of editing, nobody hires me expressly to be a readership stand-in. And presumably my clients care more about my PhD and postgraduate editing training than they do my ability to be a generalist. But thinking like a...

Your Scholarly Argument Is Not a Listicle!

When the good folks at the Text and Academic Authors Association asked me to contribute a guest post on the TAA blog, I knew just what I wanted to write. So in this post, “How to Write a Sophisticated, Dynamic Scholarly Argument,” I focus on a faulty argumentative structure I’ve seen time and again: the list. However much I might sympathize with the impulse to rattle off an inventory of features when describing a phenomenon (and I do sympathize), a list does not a persuasive case make! And a list-like argumentative structure can be sneaky: a list may not look like a list, but it’s still less effective than a full-fledged, complex argument. My full meditation on this topic can be found on the TAA blog, but here are some teasers and takeaways: A list arranges elements without nuanced interrelationships and often without priority, effectively stripping an argument of crescendo. Engaging narrators . . . reveal their objects of study as complex systems—as machinery whose gears, springs, and ratchets interact with dynamism, torque, and teeth. An argument that presents a long list of proportionate elements sacrifices the opportunity to relate research components in complex and instructive ways. I hope you’ll join me over at the Text and Academic Authors Association. The blog is full of rich content for scholarly writers, and you cannot beat the archive of workshops and webinars available...

When to Quote and When to Paraphrase

It’s a pity when surface problems scuttle otherwise strong scholarship. As an editor, I’ve noticed that poorly handled quotations are particularly damning. Inelegant use of prior scholarship can give the impression that a writer is unsophisticated, or even amateur. Naturally, research does involve mining books and articles to inform our own arguments, which are ideally novel and substantial but still reference that prior work. So of course there’s a temptation to repurpose existing literature that seems to say exactly what needs to be said in order to get to ideas that are original. It can certainly be difficult to think around the particular ways in which influential scholars have formulated cornerstone concepts. Because quoting prior scholarship is so integral to most academic disciplines, it pervades the research process. Material recorded verbatim in the information-gathering stage can find its way into manuscripts. Heck, drafting sometimes even starts with a skeleton of quotes germane to a topic; new writing is then added as connective tissue pulling it all together. Here’s what that method looks like: “quotation” + enough original material to get to the next point + “another quotation” And then there’s the quote-sandwich technique we all learned in college (or even high school): short introduction + “quotation” + brief explanation (quickly followed by another quote sandwich) I’ve noticed that these “quote quilt” approaches are favored by graduate students and scholars writing their first manuscripts, which tend to grow out of their dissertations. But despite its associations with student work, I wouldn’t say that stitching quotations together is a strictly verboten scholarly drafting method. I’ve used it myself. Using quotations to anchor...