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...

The Tweed Philosophy on Subheads

Section headings, a.k.a. subheads, can be powerful tools for the academic writer. Without them, chapters in scholarly books and journal articles would be huge, undifferentiated blocks of text. Subheads can announce topics, they can transition for us, they can display wit, and they can scaffold. Perhaps that’s why it’s tempting to rely on them a bit too much. As an editor, I have seen pitch-perfect subheads, but I have also seen them overused and haphazardly phrased. (I sometimes wonder whether ineffective subheads are left over from much earlier drafts and are simply out of place in the revised material.) Clearly, subheads can be powerful, and they can strengthen already strong manuscripts. They can’t, however, make up for deficiencies in argumentation. So to use subheads well, we must implement them judiciously and conscientiously. So how do we strike that balance—employing subheads strategically without basing too much of our organizational strategy on them? Let’s start with The Chicago Manual of Style‘s take: 1.53 Subheads—general principles Subheads within a chapter should be short and meaningful and, like chapter titles, parallel in structure and tone. It is rarely imperative that a subhead begin a new page. The first sentence of text following a subhead should not refer syntactically to the subhead; words should be repeated where necessary. For example: SECONDARY SPONGIOSA The secondary spongiosa, a vaulted structure. . . not SECONDARY SPONGIOSA This vaulted structure . . . So subheads should be brief, informative, and parallel in structure. And running text should not immediately refer to them. I would take this advisement a bit further: the first part of a section following a subhead should act as if the subhead...

Getting Smart with Quotes

You know how sometimes you see quotation marks and apostrophes that turn toward the text they’re associated with—and sometimes they’re just straight up and down, almost like hatch marks? The former kind go by many names: directional quotation marks, smart quotes, curly quotes, or typographer’s quotation marks. And they’re much more pleasing to the reading eye than straight quotes are. So what happens if you find that your manuscript is inconsistent in its style of quotation marks? Some are smart—brilliant, even—and others are just poor, unidirectional excuses for inverted commas. The inconsistency could drive you batty. There’s actually a pretty quick way to fix this in one fell swoop or two, at least if you use Microsoft Word. I’ve talked about using find-and-replace operations before. Enforcing consistent use of directional quotation marks (and apostrophes!) means we’ll revisit those functions. CLARIFICATION: Now, you could put quotation marks (“) or an apostrophe (‘) in both the find and replace fields and run a fast replace-all operation for each. This would work, but it will replace every quotation mark and apostrophe, even the ones that are already smart and already facing the right direction. For the most part, that works, but because Microsoft Word isn’t a mind reader, it will make, for instance, every apostrophe or opening quotation marks after an em dash (—) face left. In my experience, we usually want those to open toward the right, and usually these are already correctly oriented if we have employed smart quotes for the most part. The slightly more technical solution below will help when you have both smart and straight quotes in a...

Lost in Spaces (between Sentences)

If you’re submitting articles to journals or shopping around your scholarly book proposal, content is key. But when you also adhere closely to a publisher’s or journal’s style guidelines, you demonstrate professionalism and your ability to honor parameters. It shows that you can work in the service of something larger than your own project. If you could do something simple to send the subtle message that your submission fits and enhances the image of your target journal or press, would you do it? Attention to details—like the spaces between sentences—can give your work a leg up. Luckily, there are only a couple dominant standards for the number of spaces between sentences: one space or two. And the best way to enforce consistent between-sentence spacing is by using a function built right into Microsoft Word: find and replace. (For a basic introduction to this feature, here is Microsoft’s own guide. Find-and-replace functionality is available in every version of Word I’ve ever had, but this link is specifically for Office 2010. I believe find and replace operations are also possible in Google Documents and OpenOffice, but I can’t vouch for some of the advanced techniques below. If you try them out, let me know your results!) These tips are tried and true, but before you make any big find-and-replace moves, save your document! That way, if anything goes haywire, your precious work remains unharmed. Chicago and MLA: One Space Chicago and MLA styles go by the one-space standard. No matter how many times you accidentally hit the space bar while typing your manuscript, achieving only one space after every period is...

Signposting Rachel Toor’s “Think of Yourself as a Writer”

On March 7, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an advice piece by Rachel Toor, assistant professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. In “Think of Yourself as a Writer,” Toor draws from her experience in scholarly publishing to urge that academics consider their readers. Imagine that! The first part of the article sets the stage of her time at Oxford University Press, populated by professionals with various, and often competing, concerns: for ideas, for style, for basic readability. Toward the end of the piece, Toor has delivered several concrete and powerful tips for writers. At the risk of compromising the integrity the article as a whole, I’m pulling out the action items that she shares. To co-opt her term, I’m signposting them for you. These points are too important, too insightful to miss. Avoid: many and long quotations, which are easy to spot because they’re usually extracted (blocked) lots of obscure words, especially at the very beginning of a manuscript or section extra-long sentences overuse of semicolons glib discussion of sophisticated ideas Do: Get an aerial view of your document by scrolling through it at a view setting of 50 percent. Do you have a good mix of short, medium, and long paragraphs? Are you quoting too many sources at length? Make your argument clear as close to the beginning of the manuscript as possible. Editors focus on the first 50 pages—at most. Plant sentences and paragraphs encapsulating your ideas so that editors can extract them for use in presenting your work to the press. Push your ideas past the obvious. Notice your attempts at being snappy,...

Royal, Editorial, or Otherwise: The Vague “We”

Ben Zimmer, the heir to the late William Safire’s On Language column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, made waves a few weeks ago with his ruminations on the editorial we. That kind of expression is in evidence when, for instance, I write something like “We at TWEED…” TWEED happens to be a one-woman endeavor, but even if I had actual tweedy conspirators, that usage would still be an editorial we. I’m editorializing, speaking for the organization. The royal we is perhaps more well known. It’s a majestic grandiloquence, as in a queen saying, “We shall perform our daily ablutions now.” That’s not a real plural. The queen just means she’s going to take a bath. Zimmer explains that the editorial we, like the royal we, is exclusive in the sense that the addressee is not included in the pronoun. But there are also inclusive ways to stretch the meaning of the word we. Academic writers are known to use we to suggest common ground with readers: “We think of Freud as the father of psychoanalysis.” Do we? Who’s we? At any rate, from that basis the writer can move to the next point, “We are less inclined to think of Sylvia Plath as the mother of self-administrated psychoanalysis, but that was exactly her role.” The we establishes a baseline to which the rather outlandish thesis can be tethered. More commonly still is the use of we to trace the objectives of an argumentative piece: “We have seen that hypothesis A fails, but hypothesis B still stands.” It’s a professorial tone, which can be a good thing. We...