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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Default Settings

The default font for Word is times new roman. I change my default to palatino, which I think looks better on the screen and page. One journal required me to submit in times new roman, so I did, but I was irritated.

What are your default settings? These might be largely unconscious, so you might not even be aware of what they are. It might be the use of the passive voice: "In this essay it will be shown that..." It might be certain authorial stance, a certain length of paragraph or sentence. One colleague I had once ended every paper with a section titled "conclusion." One grad student in his dissertation introduced the name of every proper name with a qualifier: "Cultural critic Edward Said..." "Literary theorist Jacques Derrida." That was damned irritating.

I distinguish two kinds of default, functional and dysfunctional. A functional one works well for you, like palatino for me. It is a comfortable habit that does no harm and reduces the number of irrelevant choices. I know approximately how long a paragraph I like to write, typically, and I am comfortable staying with that in most cases.

Dsyfunctional defaults are those that get in the way. They are bad habits that the writer is not even aware of. In some cases, like ending every article with a section title "conclusion," there was no real harm done. In other cases, though a default can show a certain unmindfulness. Introducing every single proper name with a description of who they are is irritating, because the writer has not chosen to do so when appropriate. Maybe she was reading too much Dan Brown.*


*The first sentence of a bestselling novel by this author is "Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."


Thomas said...

It's striking how much better a sentence this is: "Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery." The reader who is wondering "But why's he such a big deal? Is he a renowned curator or something?" and not "Why is he staggering?" is not worth our time.

PS. I'm a major ideologue of Times New Roman. I know it's not the prettiest font, but it's the most workmanlike, if you will. Also, if you work in it all the time, you don't get irritated when journals demand it (many do).

Jonathan said...

There is almost no such thing as a renowned curator. You don't get famous for being a curator; I can't name one myself and I like to go to art museums.

As for times new roman, I really do hate it despite its workmanlike qualities. A good font should be invisible (some say), but not quite that invisible.

Jonathan said...

... and there's a difference between someone using tnr because they admire a quality of it, and those who use it because they never changed the default setting.