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Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Meeting in the Middle

 My approach is [often] to help people to unlearn some of the bad habits of academic writing. Recently, though, I've realized that the first goal is to gain some useful habits to get by on. So the student at an early stage still does not have a bad academic style to unlearn. They have a non-academic style, for example, or barely master the basics. 

*Students who write in short sentences or paragraphs and can't develop an idea in a fluent paragraph. 

*Students who write the way they talk. 

*Students with inadequate Spanish language skills.   

A little bit of academic pomposity would be an improvement in some cases. My own style is formal, but then with enough informal touches to make a nice point once in a while. That is different from someone who simply doesn't understand the difference between formal and informal registers, or has no experience with the former.  

We can meet in the middle perhaps: the middle would be a formal yet plain and clear style,  one without any particular flair or elegance but that didn't call attention to itself. 


Leslie B. said...

I've decided the worst habit is the fetichization of the thesis statement. Every case of writer's block I've had has had to do with having rushed to thesis statement and then realizing it's not a good one, but trying to still write to it due to having a deadline.

My student is now trying to do that. His original thesis was: García Márquez must have been under the influence of liberation theology avant la lettre because his work from the 50s indicates he is willing to take Christian principles seriously but critical of the Church. I said it wouldn't take LT to have those attitudes, it was a weak thesis. Now he's looking for another one. He keeps insisting on coming up with a thesis before doing the research. I keep trying to get him to decide what he's interested in, or to choose an area of focus: is it theology he is interested in? base communities? literature? politics? yet he can't decide, but instead keeps coming up with outlandish theses not based in knowledge of subjects. I am blaming his AP English teacher, and wish he had not gone to such a "good" high school.

Jonathan said...

You'd like my colleague Araceli. She says the same thing. In my intro to lit class I've given up on the thesis sentence. They invariably say that the poet uses rhyme and personification to create a great poetic message. My grad students can't come up with a thesis so expecting it a lower level...

Thomas Basbøll said...

This frustration with thesis statements intrigues me. I used to have a similar aversion to the role of the "research question", but my complaint was about the way it continued to dominate the writing process long after it had been answered. You seem to have the opposite problem. The thesis statement dominates the research process!

I'm going to have to think some more about this. I do tell students to come up with a thesis statement before they write -- but also a line of argument to support it. That is, they should do the research before they arrive at a thesis. Once they do, I have some ideas about how to complete the sentence "This paper/thesis shows that ..." Maybe it's all about how that sentence is completed?

Jonathan said...

It's more that the thesis statement is premature. You set out to prove something and don't notice when your additional research and thinking undermine your central idea, so you try to force it.