In Defense of Academic Writing: A Response to @sapinker (Part 1)

In Steven Pinker’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” Pinker argues that academic writing suffers from a number maladies, including self-conscious stylistics, a “curse of knowledge,” and a lack of “incentives to write well.” I want to address each of Pinker’s points in detail. This first post will focus on the “self-conscious style” argument.

“Self-Conscious Style” Features Serve Functions Other Than Indexing The Author’s Membership in Academe

Pinker, drawing from Thomas and Turner’s style typology, asserts that academic writing is “self-conscious.” Academic writers, Pinker argues, are marked by a goal of “not so much communication as self-presentation—an overriding defensiveness against any impression that they may be slacker than their peers in hewing to the norms of the guild.” Pinker favors an alternative style, which Thomas & Turner call the “classic style.” In describing this style, Pinker says, though not explicitly, that the style has as its underlying ideology a correspondence theory of truth: a statement is true if it ‘corresponds’ to or matches something in reality. This theory of truth is not consistent with  many schools of thought in the humanities, such as Reader-Response theory, or the philosophical paradigms informing some social sciences, such as Social Constructivism or Critical theory. It’s not even consistent, as Pinker later notes, with post-positivism, which many physical and biological scientists espouse. But, according to Pinker, it doesn’t matter: classic style is clearer than the self-conscious, and that is why academic writing stinks. (more…)

Why @derekwebb Should Come Back To Twitter

It started with this:

And then this:

And that was it. Derek Webb was done with Twitter. (more…)

#AcWriMo Day 3

1. What did I accomplish?

Yesterday I completed a submission to a journal of a book review I had completed awhile ago. I had initially selected a certain journal, and I formatted my text to meet their word length requirements. But then I found out that they did not have open submissions for book reviews, so it took some time to find another journal that did have open submissions for book reviews. After that, I set up my account with the journal, wrote a cover letter, wrote an author bio, and then hit submit. My first single author pub is in the review process.

I have accomplished one of my goals already–which means that I can now focus more on my prelim and book chapter. I also read some of my current article, but because of the focus on the book review, I did not meet my 2 article requirement. I’m now considering limiting my daily reading load to 1 article a day–this seems more manageable because the amount of time I have each day for reading varies widely–but one article is always possible.

2. What can I do better?

Tonight was my night out with friends. I don’t regret this choice, as I think it’s important to do, and it is often difficult to schedule around our various responsibilities. But the result is that I won’t get any writing done tonight. It is not a good start. I admit that. But given the unpredictability of scheduling these biweekly outings, I’m willing to chalk this up to an anomaly. I will have to make up for it tomorrow by doubling down and reading more (and faster). My goal then will be to have read three articles by the end of the day tomorrow. I’ll be reading some tonight to try to get a jump on tomorrow’s big reading day. I’ll also take a stab at the book chapter as well tomorrow evening.

Overall, I’m feeling like #AcWriMo is starting off well–with one goal down, I can narrow my focus and energy to really get something done this month.

#AcWriMo Day 1

Following posts in ProfHacker and PhD2Published, I will be participating in Academic Writing Month, or #AcWriMo. Following the prompts from both sources, I’m going to go through the process of deciding what I want to accomplish in this month.

    1. Decide on your goal. The goal, like NaNoWriMo (which I did as an undergrad and failed miserably at), must be ambitious. The goal in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write 50,000 words in a month. This goal is not particularly meaningful for academics–publications matter more than wordcounts. So here is what MUST be done by the end of the month whether I do AcWriMo or not:-A co-authored book chapter (approximately 3000 words)

      -An abstract for an international conference (approximately 500 words)

      -A presentation for a regional conference (approximately 500 words)

      I have preliminary examinations in January, and for the most part I have been taking my time reading while working on a research project, but this is a good motivator to kick it into high gear so I am done writing on time. Therefore, I will be adding to my current projects these goals:

    2. Declare it!
      • One prelim question complete (approximately 12000-15000 words)
      • One book review submitted to a journal (mostly edits and formatting)
      • One scholars fair proposal (approximately 250 words, but I did it last night, but it still counts)
      • Two substantial blog posts (approximately 1400 words)

    4. Draft a strategy.While this list does seem a little light on the protein, it’s really all I can manage with the holidays and a regional conference travel scheduled near the end of the month. Managing it, of course, will take some consistency. I have blocked off Fridays for research and writing, as well as a few hours every evening and, of course the weekends. I don’t take that schedule too seriously, and I think that is a problem. But changing that will take some kind of enforcement mechanism. One thing that helped me with my Masters Thesis was blogging about my progress, so I think I will revive that strategy as a way to manage the schedule part. I may adjust the schedule because, looking at it, it makes me a little nauseous. We’ll see how it goes.

      Strategy: Blog every other day on my progress, answering these two questions.

      1. What did I accomplish?
      2. What can I do better?


    6. Discuss your progress. I’ll be doing this through the blog as a way to keep on track. I’ll also be keeping a running update on Twitter at the #AcWriMo hashtag and the Accountability Spreadsheet

    8. Don’t slack off. I know a few of you read my posts, and so I would appreciate it if you could drop me a line if you sense your BS meter going off or if you want to offer some positive encouragement

    10. Declare your results. I’ll be posting my accomplishments regularly, but I will do a recap post at the very end of the month as well to review which of my goals I accomplished.


    Let’s do this.

#CWCon from Afar: Gee’s Affinity Spaces & Situated Learning Interrogated

I have been following Computers & Writing Conference this week on Twitter at the #cwcon hashtag. Among the most livetweeted talks was James Paul Gee’s keynote, “Writing in the Age of the Maker Movement.” Gee, famous for research on gaming and literacy, spoke broadly about teaching writing from a situated learning perspective. In his talk, he emphasized the need for “goal-based action” in learning to write, where students see writing as a way of “doing” something. He advocated learning situated in “affinity spaces,” where a group coalesces over a “common endeavor” (Gee, 2003, p. 192). I have Storified the livetweeting of the talk here.

Before I respond to the talk, I want state a caveat: I wasn’t there. I am relying on livetweeting, and therefore my comprehension and interpretation of Gee’s talk is limited by the points that were livetweeted. I could have missed points in his argument, which would then skew my interpretation in an erroneous direction. I apologize in advance if I misinterpreted Gee.

I want to respond to a few key claims livetweeted, so I’ve selected the first tweets I could find in the #cwcon stream that documented each of these claims. I have embedded them below. (more…)