Monday, June 22, 2009

Learning to Write

This is a nice article by Rachel Toor on the value of clear writing, particularly in the academy. I would say "good" writing, but "good" is too subjective and when you're talking about writing, especially academic writing, clear is more important than good. In fact, clear might even be the definition of good. After all, if you're a graduate student or an academic physician or anyone trying to say anything in words on screen or paper, you should strive to make your points clearly and concisely. I was a graduate student in the humanities once, and when I was cleaning out my apartment before I moved in with my (now) husband, I found some of my papers. They were not so clear. Reading them I couldn't believe I knew anything about their subjects. Please note that I did not say "reading them I couldn't believe I once knew anything about their subjects," because nothing I read could convince me that I knew anything about any of it even when I was in grad school. To me the problem of writing has a lot to do with the problem of learning grammar. When you learn a language's grammar, really study it, you get a whole different sense of what's going on in a sentence than if you just sort of live a language. (At least that's what happened for me when I really learned biblical Hebrew grammar in grad school.) If you just sort of live a language, to write in it you have to practice and practice and then the clarity of any of it is still up for grabs because the writer, by necessity, must take a hit or miss approach. I could go on and on, but if I did, I wouldn't be at all concise, and I'm not exactly sure I'm being clear now either.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the value of studying a language's grammar. And, as Albert Einstein is said to have said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." I love that.

Robin Aronson said...

It's true what Einstein said--and it's a high bar.