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It has all the earmarks of traditional scholarly writing: long, clunky sentences, passive voice, recurrent jargon.Yet the meaning itself is fairly easy to grasp, and I think most of us understand why it’s written the way it is.
In order to do that, the writer must first recognize that a reader exists, which academics often fail to do.
Most scholarly writing (at least in the humanities) sounds to me like the writer is having a conversation with himself or herself.
This discussion is actually part of a larger debate about what constitutes good writing.
I always tell my first-year composition students, when I’m trying to correct all the misconceptions about writing they’ve picked up in high school—you can’t use personal pronouns or start a sentence with a conjunction, etc.—that the only reasonable standard for good writing is what good writers actually do.
Some examples of evaluative questions for teaching literature include How are you similar to the character?
What is your opinion of the character or events in the story? Teachers are quick to note that there is no right or wrong answer here and encourage children to be reflective or to connect the reading to their own personal knowledge or experiences.As academic writing goes, this is better than some and no worse than most. I don’t know about you, but the writer lost me midway through the first sentence. He or she makes no attempt to engage a real live person who might be reading.Speaking for a moment as a human being, not as an academic, I would read something like this only if I absolutely had to, and then I wouldn’t be too happy about it. It’s almost as if that person, the reader, doesn’t exist—as if the subject matter is so ponderously significant that it transcends any human interaction.Likewise, a college professor writing for students would sound different from a professor writing for other professors—or at least, that’s how it should be, although many textbook writers seem to forget it.What distinguishes a conversational style is not just that it’s less formal (although it usually is) or that it avoids stuffy, made-up “rules” like the ones mentioned above (although it usually does), but that it attempts to approximate an actual conversation between a writer and a reader.Perhaps that’s consistent with the introspective, philosophical nature of the academic enterprise—let’s not forget what the “Ph.” in “Ph.D.” stands for—but it doesn’t translate well to the world outside of academia, which virtually all our students will inhabit.Usually found at the end of a story, this type of question requires student learners to offer their own opinions or evaluations.In addition, this style of question is often referred to as an on your own venture.Nor will more than a fraction of them go on to become academics, thank goodness.The overwhelming majority won’t be writing academic prose in their professional lives, so why should we be teaching it to them in college, much less high school?