You are now reading an article by Jonathan Mayhew. Get comfortable, adjust the thermostat as you see fit. Don't get too comfortable, though. You might want to brew a fresh pot of coffee before you proceed, in fact, to ward off the inevitable afternoon sleepiness. Don't worry; the article will still be there, unchanged, when you return. Silence notifications on all your devices. Or better yet, leave them on, as an escape hatch for when the article starts to become tiresome. Like others of its ilk, this article is an awkward length: too long to read in one sitting, but not quite long enough for two complete reading sessions.
You're already into the second paragraph. Phew! Now is the time, after the idle throat clearing gestures of the first paragraph, when the author performs several crucial steps before entering into the meat of the matter. He must convince you of the importance of the subject he is studying and of the significance of his findings. He will quickly establish his authority by worrying to death certain specialized terms. He will invoke several revered authority figures, beginning, of course, with Pierre Bourdieu. He will reflect on the enormous difficulty of his task. He will skillfully size up the competition, finding previous scholars rather unsatisfying, despite their "valuable contributions."
In the third paragraph, Mayhew enumerates for you the steps of his own original argument. Now you should probably pour yourself a cup of the coffee you have just made. After all, these rhetorical tasks, while crucial for the author and perhaps for the editors of the journal, are not really addressed to the reader at all: all you really have to do is to come away with the vague impressions that the game is being played with all of the proper formalities in place. You're not expected to be paying much attention yet, though you should watch for breaches in scholarly decorum. You could view the second and third paragraphs, too, as a preliminary exercise in throat clearing. By convention, the article cannot do anything of substance until these boxes have been checked.
By this point, at the beginning of the next paragraph, you are getting impatient. When is the real thing going to start? You are eager to dive in, but now you see a lengthy footnote addressing tangential, but somehow urgent, details.1 At this point, any engagement with the subject matter itself, any concrete ideas about anything, would be a huge relief. If you can only get far enough into this paragraph, the time you have invested so far will all be worth it...
1. You are torn between skipping the note and reading it right now. It is probably not too important, but what if it is? After attending to the note, you return to the body of the text, feeling you have done your duty.
You're reading one by me. It will start out very densely theoretical and abstract. It will then unpack its initial claims, still in a very theoretical mode. Next, it will illustrate these and the illustrations given in writing will not be nearly as interesting as the ones expounded in conversation or visualized by me without words. Finally, it will sew all of this together and the end will be less impressive than the beginning.
...due to the weakness of the analysis of the illustrations, which I typically get bored with and do not do well enough. At present, it's happening to me on a paper which isn't a lit paper, I thought this was my weakness on lit papers but it seems to be my weakness on everything. I *speak* well on these matters but get bored writing on them. Hmmm. To be improved, since per above comment, this will improve my conclusions.
Didn't you write or link to a whole article written like this many years ago? I thought I had saved such a text, but I can't find it with searching my hard drive (as I'm not sure what terms to use). It might have been something on Language Log, or that LL provided a link to?
You could be thinking of this, Andrew: https://prosedoctor.blogspot.com/2011/07/good-article-on-excessive-signposting.html. I know you commented on it at the time.
Yes, that was it, Jonathan!
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