"You should be writing from the center of your epistemic strength so that you can build your literary chops."
Yes. It seems very simple, but writing about things about which you have deep knowledge produces better results than a very thin scholarship about things only half understood. I like the phrase "the center of your epistemic strength" because we know most things very badly, in general.
I like Edwin Denby's thinking about dance criticism. You have to divide it into two tasks: seeing the dance, and then writing about it. But both tasks imply knowledge of dance in general. You could imagine someone who is good at observing things, but has never seen a ballet. Or someone who knows about dance, has good perceptions, but is not a particularly good writer. But you need all three elements to be good at the job.
I was coaching a social scientst the other day who is writing a methods paper. I got him to write a paragraph of observations he has made using the method. The difficulty was to get him to write it concretely, like a scene in a novel. To write what he actually sees when he looks at human behavior. His knowledge of the line of work that the subjects he was observing are in became crucial to pulling this off well.
This is, of course, why I am for exams and not just papers.
But the word chops grates, I think of old Victorian supposed gentlemen eating their mutton and pronouncing what they think are wise words as the grease slips down their jowls.
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