Great question. Do you resonate with the response Rachel Toor received from a graduate class in physical education?
When we were wrapping up, I asked them a question: “What is your relationship to reading and writing?” At that moment, they morphed from T-shirt-clad physical specimens and became generic graduate students, indistinguishable from all-in-black, cigarette-smoking studiers of literary theory and bearded-and-geeky future scientists. It’s all we do, they wailed, and it’s hard. … The journal articles he makes us read (they said, directing accusing fingers at my colleague) are dense and boring. We’re getting good information, but it can be painful. And, they said, we have to learn to write like that. — Rachel Toor, Bad Writing and Bad Thinking, Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/15/2010.
What do you think about Toor’s thoughts on the topic?
No, I said, you don’t. … In 1946 he [George Orwell] wrote “Politics and the English Language,” an essay that explains the connections between bad writing and bad thinking as well as the political consequences: “Modern [insert the word “academic” here] English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional [or scholarly] writers.”
By writing prose that is nearly unintelligible not just to the general public, but also to graduate students and fellow academics in your discipline, you are not doing the work of advancing knowledge. And, honestly, you don’t really sound smart. I understand that there are ideas that are so difficult that their expression must be complex and dense. But I can tell you, after years of rejecting manuscripts submitted to university presses, most people’s ideas aren’t that brilliant.
Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in. And it’s a result of lazy thinking. Most of us know that we may not be writing as well as we could, or should. Many academics have told me that they suspect they are bad writers but don’t know how to get better. They are often desperate for help. I tell them to reread Strunk and White, and to take a look at “Politics and the English Language.” Yeah, yeah, they say, and get buried working toward the next submission deadline, prepping for the next class. … — Rachel Toor, Bad Writing and Bad Thinking, Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/15/2010.
Taking a step back to consider the bigger picture:
- How much attention do you give to reading and writing about your faith?
- What habits have you formed toward the end of good thinking and good writing?
- What encouragement/resources have you found a blessing in the development of these habits?
- How often and well do you articulate your faith among you colleagues?
- What resources/opportunities do you desire the Emerging Scholars Network to offer to assist you in the above areas? Note: If you have not already done such, please review Suggested ESN Readings.
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!