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...

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...

Making Writing Manageable, If Not Enjoyable

The good folks at the Pedant, Claremont’s student newsletter, recently interviewed me about how make writing more pleasurable and routine (yes, both). The issue is out, and I see that they’ve quoted me using un accent circonflexe—I feel so fancy! Other tips come from esteemed professors, a New York Times contributor, a writing-center professional, and procrastination experts. The takeaway is in the last sentence: “Writing may not always be heavenly, but it also need not be hell.” For the full two-page article, “A Few Pages a Day Keeps the Malaise Away,” view the PDF of March’s issue. Thanks to Pedant editor Rachel Tie for inviting my...

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...

Paul Krugman’s Four Rules of Research

A couple weeks ago, I drove to the Oregon coast with my sweetie, who is a Paul Krugman devotee. (Krugman is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton and writes an op-ed column and a blog for the New York Times.) As we wound through the forest, the two of us were listening to a podcast of a conversation between Krugman and CUNY’s Peter Beinart. Of course, they mostly talked economics and politics, but for a few moments the discussion became about the art and craft of writing—specifically, the challenges that an academic may have when trying to write for a broader audience. Naturally, my ears perked right up. Krugman actually reveals his “four rules for economic research”: Question the question. Listen to the gentiles. Dare to be silly. Simplify, simplify. They’re straightforward tips, but you should really hear all he has to say about them. (I’d love to ruminate on them and unpack them in a proper blog post, but I’m really booked up to my ears with academic editing projects for two university presses right now. I’ve been disappointed not to have more time to blog and create Tweed resources this month!) So today I had a few minutes to transcribe the bit of the Beinart-Krugman conversation about writing, and I thought I’d share it with you all. What follows is just a rough, unedited transcription. By “unedited,” I mean that I only listened to the audio once while typing, and I didn’t even copyedit my own transcript. (As you can imagine, that’s out of character for me.) It is truly a crude rendering, but...

How to Unfile Research Paperwork

My filing cabinets had been bursting with grad-school materials for years. This weekend, I finally got around to addressing the problem. I’m calling the solution my unfiling system. Recognize That Past Research Projects Take Up Precious Space Something I’ve realized: if I keep all the hard-copy research I’ve done, I’ll be buried alive in paperwork. I would wager that a pack rat lurks inside every researcher—but even for an academic, I boast a pretty pronounced hoarding instinct. My boyfriend generously calls it my documentarian nature. As a girl, I collected brochures and menus. Now in my thirties, I continue to amass stationery. Grad school was a paper heaven for me. With academia come piles of paperwork. I don’t just mean bureaucratic detritus and the kinds of program brochures and promotional materials that I love to collect. I mean research, class notes, syllabi fodder, teaching materials, past dossiers, old cover letters, and handouts that may not be useful in the future but that I’m lazy enough to keep anyway. I’m guessing you, gentle reader, might exhibit the same tendency from time to time. Weigh Practicality and Sentimentality I have a pretty extensive filing system for all of my academic research; what I’ve lacked is a way to make space for current and future projects. To do that, I know I must make peace with the past and move along. At least I had hanging files set up to categorize the papers I kept. Teaching materials and coursework are sorted according to class and semester. My thesis and dissertation research have their own files, several for each project. Thank goodness I’d...