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Other plagiarism arguments

People overly concerned with tracking down and denouncing plagiarism have defective characters.  They are small-minded, reactionary bullies....

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Qualification

A qualified phrase bears markers that make it less absolute. Qualification makes the statement weaker, less provocative, but it can also bring gains in precision. Also, you get points for the reader for the modesty of your claims. If someone disagrees, you might point out that they are only disagreeing with an unqualified version of the idea, not your carefully crafted qualification of it.

On my other blog, Bemsha Swing, I'll get hammered sometimes by commenters on some statement that I haven't properly qualified. It seems absurd, ridiculous, what I'm saying.

A corollary is that you can make the most uncontroversial claim using extreme rhetoric, and people will respond to your tone, without realizing that what you're saying is completely anodyne--or use a very bland tone to smuggle across a controversial point.

3 comments:

Vance Maverick said...

I'm enjoying reading your notes on producing good academic prose. But I'll never be an academic again. Do you have advice for those of us outside the ivied walls who find ourselves reading academic prose from time to time? Not all of it is as readable as yours. Right now I'm starting an interesting book, and the introduction is tough sledding. Not "difficult", but lacking in personality and rhetorical direction. I imagine that as the consumer of many more such books, you must have strategies for how to read them....

Jonathan said...

That's a fantastic question. Right now I'm reading two books, one for a tenure review and the other for a book review for a journal. Not bad books, but ones I would have written differently. I have to read every page of them. One strategy I use sometimes, however, is to begin on page 101. That way I can see what the book is really like and immerse myself in the argument without wasting time, having skipped the preliminaries. After I get to the end of the book I can go back and see if there's anything else I need to read in the first 100 pages. Usually you don't have to read all of a book to get what you want out of it. It kind of depends on why you are reading it. A lot of academic books are written to be consulted rather than read straight through.

Vance Maverick said...

Thanks: the page 101 strategy at least makes clear that Cándida Smith is consistent. It's a historical narrative about artists, told less in terms of art than of cultural and intellectual history, quite in the style of the intro. In other words, I'll go back and reread from the first chapter, and wrestle with the reductive contextualizing throughout.