Writing to Tame the Chaos

Recently found great writing and revising prompts and suggestions in the Tomorrows Professor Blog article by Gina Hiatt, Ph.D 851. Reducing Over-Complexity in Your Scholarly Writing

The first one struck me as an illustration of distributed cognition; how we use external aids to add structure and extend our thinking.

Write to find out what you think. Your thoughts will be somewhat muddled until you get them in writing. Don’t go around and around in circles internally until you know what to write. Write before you know what you’re going to say.

Learn to tolerate some degree of confusion, and yes, complexity in your early writing. I’ve noticed that many academics get panicky when their first draft is a mess. It’s supposed to be a mess! Have faith in the revision process.

I really do need to get something down “on the page” before I really understand the implications of what I’m thinking. It supports the limitations of short-term and working memory, but more than that too! It’s also the back and forth / give and take revising process.  I’m revising my thoughts and ideas while I get the first words down.  This is one of the main reasons I blog, to workout ideas on the page and over time.

Good thinking, writing and communicating should go hand in hand.  I also think that there are no principled breaks in the chiastic relationships between thought, writing and communicating.  I think there is a common sense that academic writing is for scholars and not for the rest. Now in one sense, academic are writing for other academics and thus their writing serves an instrumental purpose, but good writing should also be able to serve a broader purpose.  It should be able to communicate, and inspire good thinking for non-academics.

Why are non-academic not exposed to good thinking and why are academics not writing in ways that better influence practitioners:

  • I think there are low expectations for non-academics. To anyone familiar with the literature on teacher expectations, this should send up red flags!  Its is easy to downplay potential via expectations.
  • I think academics get too caught-up in the need for complexity that serves only disciplinary vocabulary and categorization schemes, not the underlying thinking.  Look at the current economy / finance mess and those complex derivatives.  It’s looking more and more like pretty simple fraud that people perpetrated on themselves and on the rest of us by using complex vocabulary and mathematical formulas to cover-up what was basically simple.  Thought can be complex, but there is a lot of complex writing that shouldn’t be.

I shouldn’t be ranting, not with MY dissertation, just working to try getting better.