Prosaic Prose ;-) [Huge]

Subject: Prosaic Prose ;-) [Huge]
From: "Paul J. Sisler" <paul -at- SISLER -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 1997 12:32:36 -0600

Daniel Wise writes . . .
>Paul Sisler gave us a lengthy apologia
>for the dull, dry, boring, pompous writing style adopted by some (many,
>most, all?) academics.

Mucho irony appreciation from my end, but I never intended to accuse all
academics of being stuffed shirts.

I feel like I stepped into a cultural war between two factions, one
representing the "work" world and the other the "scholastic" world. The
distinction IMHO is false, riddled with silly stereotypes, and serves only
to further alienate each faction from the other. If we value academic
work--and I'm sure some don't--then I believe it is as much incumbent on us
to read the papers and whatnot that result from it, as it is on academics to
write so they "make sense."

>I read what you wrote and then reread
>it. I still do not understand precisely what your message was.

Forgive my silliness in attempting to adopt two "apparently" contrasting
"styles"--I was in conversation mode, not technical writer mode. I do that

>I believe academics could and should write in plain English.

I do as well. However, I think narrow study requires short hand. Sometimes
shorthand looks like code to those who are less familiar with it. Anybody
who uses big words to impress anybody else is almost certainly a complete
hose head. But languages and cultures evolve around activities. I don't
understand the programmers at lunch when they talk about Nascar racing or
NCAA basketball. I imagine they think they're talking "plain" English. I
know my mother, who is pretty sharp, has difficulty reading most computer
manuals, written supposedly in "plain English."

>We present the results of scientific studies <snip> in plain English that
can be read and
>understood by others.

Yes, frequently. And I'm proud to be part of a community that sees this as
its foremost goal.

>If the objective is to impress
>academic colleagues, I question whether this kind of writing does.

I didn't intend to imply I believed that. And, of course, I think those out
to impress are bores. Yes there are crappy writers everywhere. But do we
*really* expect engineers (I'm certain some are fine writers) to write as
well as people who make a living doing it? Certainly not. Otherwise,
programmers would still be writing manuals and online help (sorry, software
bias here). I don't think we should expect literary theorists to be good
writers. This is like making the mistake that a person who majors in
literature is suited to teach writing, or for that matter to do what we're
supposing: to write.

>But what kind
>of respect do we get from our peers if they cannot comprehend what we say?
>And how much use will the writings be to future generations of researchers
>if the readers cannot stay awake long enough to digest what is written.

None. And what sort of comprehension do we expect if we don't listen?

But I really don't want to have gizmos jumping off of me from a web page to
keep me awake or narratives about torrid love affairs or great escapes to
keep me reading. I am deliberately misreading you <sorry> but really, are
specifications for an Allis Chalmers really exciting. Are business process
related to the financial industry the kind of thing that keep you up turning

Sometimes, I'd rather read Aristotle than Michael Chricton.

> get to the
>point of the proposal without a lot of pompous blather. This is the way I
>feel. I want to be able to understand what I read without undue struggle.

Nobody likes to struggle, but I still believe the "get-to-the-point"
business is a cultural idiosyncracy. One persons blather may be anothers
politeness. (Hey--I live in Minnesota our politeness irritates most people.)

>I would urge academics to follow this lead. (complete, concise . . .)

I bet most think they have been following it.

Anyway, Peter K., who must have taught first year comp with that
_Ways_of_Reading_ (Bartholomae?) text, defends sensibly:

>The best academic writing forces us to engage its
>own text in a way that can be tremendously revealing. If some of worst
>papers use jargon and obscure references as a way to snow us
>under, some of the best can turn it into a spare and elegant way to
>convey some terribly complex ideas.

So I'll bail out of a tired thread, which can only further divide members of
the profession, as soon as I send this last long post. Unless somebody
wants to "take it outside." ;-)


paul -at- sisler -dot- com

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