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Thursday, February 21, 2013


In what I'm writing today I noticed that I used "I suggest" or "this suggests" quite a bit. This indicates (or suggests) that in this particular piece of writing I want to make suggestions, or recommendations that people think in a certain way, or intuitive sorts of reasonings. Of course, I'll change this so it doesn't become overbearing. I have 7 uses of that or related words in 11 pages, which is entirely too much.


The larger point is to look at the work these "working words" are doing: argue, suggest, examine, exemplify, represent, contend, demonstrate, explore, negotiate, deal with, say, treat, explain, explicate, analyze, enumerate, take into account, think through, account for, and many more... Those are the words that embody (there's another one) the ways in which we represent out intellectual labor to ourselves and others in words. Typically they would be found in sentences where one is attributing an argument (or putting it forth), or explaining what the whole paper is about: "This paper explores the ways in which..." "In this essay I negotiate the conflicting claims of..." "I will suggest that Johnson fails to account for the ways in which Jones delineates the boundaries between..." You'll want to use those words thoughtfully, to avoid the perfunctory tone they can acquire. One tip is to use the one you mean, not some other word that just sounds vaguely academic or academically vague. Another is to bypass signposting in favor of more elegant solutions.

They are very handy when you want to be able to express quickly an idea and make it sound academic-sounding.


matt said...

I also find myself often overusing the word "suggests," but I think it's because that word is the most versatile of the "argue" words. It clearly indicates that I, or whomever I'm talking about, is putting an idea forward, but it's not as strong as "argues" "asserts" "insists" etc.

Andrew Shields said...

I used to just stop paying attention whenever anyone said "I want to suggest that ..." I want claims, not suggestions. Then I finally realized it was just a formula that "makes it sound academic-sounding," as you put it, Jonathan. As you know, I'm for "more elegant solutions."