14 feb. 2009

I was thinking, after doing a peer review of an article for a journal yesterday (not the journal I usually review for), on the same day that I finished my first set of graduate papers, that we need to have freshman composition course for graduate students and college professors. It may be a problem specific to my field, since people writing in English either (a) are not native speakers of English or (b) are native speakers of English but do most of their writing in Spanish in graduate school, before having to write a dissertation in English after their course-work is done.

I am not rabidly dead-set against the passive voice. I use it myself from time to time, as everyone else does. There is a problem, though, in those who set the passive voice as their default, who don't follow basic conventions of punctuation.

Before you send an article to a journal, have someone else read it for style. This reader should be a native speaker of the language in which you are writing as well as someone whose writing you fervently admire.

3 comentarios:

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

Two quick thoughts on this. First Christopher Lasch apparently turned his graduate seminar into a writing course one day because the quality of his students' writing was so poor. I think it was originally only supposed to last one class, but went on for weeks simply because there was such a need for it. (See the intro of his Plain Style, which also recounts Lasch's attempt to raise the level of writing in his department.)

Second, I don't hold out much hope for composition courses at the graduate level and beyond. What is needed is continuous feedback. At our department we have me--a resident writing consultant--but less expensive solutions can be imagined. What is needed is a culture of revision, a challenge to the cult of the isolated authors and his "difficult" text.

Jonathan dijo...

I don't think a comp course would be appropriate. It would have the connotation of being remedial. The answer is close attention to writing in grad classes and a series of workshops outside of the normal class structure.

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

Most of my work is done essentially "outside of the normal class structure". But it is increasingly being integrated into the doctoral school's overall program. It of course includes workshops and seminars of various kinds that are intended to have a kind of general applicability.

It's going pretty well, but I have to say that I sometimes have my doubts. The ideal situation would be for the relevant faculty members to simply insist on good writing and to integregate it into the package of academic apprenticeship.

Ideally, writing should not be a separable issue/problem for a scholar. You either know how to write well on your chosen subject matter, or you simply don't know your subject. But normally, I assume that's too hard a line to take.