American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies Graduate Student Caucus

A Blog for Students of the Long Eighteenth

Writing Wednesday: Clarity


Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

(Today’s post is brought to you by a boy and his stuffed tiger.)

In my last dissertation chapter, I quoted and analysed some of Jacques Derrida’s Signature Event Context. In sum, I’m working with performative language–let’s leave it there. In a draft, my supervisor circled the whole Derrida section and simply wrote, ‘Huh?’

I find some students, instructors, and scholars neglect the importance of rhetorical finesse and the damage an overwrought sentence can bring. If your audience (for a dissertation: your panel; for a book: fellow scholars) cannot understand your subject, you’re not doing your research any favours. In fact, you’re inhibiting its–and your–success.

I, personally, find writing musical. I imagine the rhythm of my sentences, their rising and falling tonality, their crescendos, decrescendos, changes in tempo, changes in metre. I read my sentences out loud and pretend I’m presenting them–using alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and so forth to subtly keep my audience engaged. These measures make my writing more enjoyable for myself and my reader, but most importantly, they help me keep convoluted jargon to a minimum.

When I quoted and wrote about Derrida, it threw my method through a loop. Derrida is so complex in his writing that my analysis became equally complex. I was overwriting a simple thought and amended it thereafter.

How do you feel about the clarity of your writing? What methods do you use to write sophisticated thoughts in easy-to-approach ways?

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One comment on “Writing Wednesday: Clarity

  1. Ula
    August 8, 2012

    I think it’s very important to remember that simplicity is often the key to good writing. Many published scholars write in convoluted ways, and this seems to inspire more of the “impenetrable fog” kind of writing. I am constantly re-writing section of my dissertation to make my arguments clearer and clearer. If I need to engage with complex writers (ex. I discuss Lacan’s ideas about the phallus BRIEFLY in ch. 3 of my diss), I try to focus on the main idea that writer uses and how this helps develop my own arguments. If I want to quote from him/her in order to discuss some point in more detail, I try to save that for footnotes.

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This entry was posted on August 8, 2012 by in Writing Wednesday.

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