Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for May 21, 2014

*Notes on Howard Becker’s “Writing for Social Scientists”


Writing is ritualistic.

Rewriting is very important for “good” papers and is a common practice for both students and teachers. This involves stripping text of fancy, academic-y styles.

Characteristic faults of sociological writing:
1. passive constructions
2. abstract nouns
3. unwillingness (inability) to make causal statements

Sociological writers do not develop a culture, so pluralistic ignorance ensues.

When writing, its important to have people (former professors, colleagues, etc.) read your works in progress.

Academic writers adopt (sometimes) elitist styles of writing not functionally, but ceremonially.

Use of academic style might reflect writers’ insecurities,attempt to project authority, or to draw distinctions between laypeople.

Undergraduate students are usually more concerned (as a result of the structure of the grading system) with writing as a means to earn a grade, as opposed to developing as a writer.

Writing and teaching is “decoupled”, which mystifies the process. Professors stand as unquestionable authorities in the eyes of student.

There is no One Right Way:

  • Don’t begin papers with evasive maneuvers. Especially at the beginning.
  • It’s important to write drafts, and rewrite, and revise. Not to overly plan out paper. Embrace chaos.
  • You don’t have to solve all the problems you find in your topic—instead you can write about why they are problems and how you’ve thought about them.
  • Rules pertaining to writing are not automatic. There are matters of creativity and taste.
  • Content is more important than style.
  • Writing should be succinct, interesting, and active.
  • Active is preferred to passive verbs.
  • Reduce repetition. Usually on serves to obscure points.
  • Use concrete words and sentences when possible.
  • Use caution with metaphors.

-Students guard their egos against peers and other scholars by attaching their work to a reputable research tradition.

-The “classics” of sociology have important functions, but can also stifle intellectual creativity.

-There is an ongoing relationship with contemporary scholars and their predecessors – “normal science” – you are only a small part of a very large scientific community.

-Effectively using literature involves piecing together arguments and insights from others and filling in gaps with your own scholarship.

-Paying too much attention to literature can also deform your argument, making it conform to the dominant approach – better to learn how to identify the ideological component in theoretical modules and learn to approach the same subject in different ways.

-Tips will do nothing unless you make them habits — practice.

-Writing is an organizational act.

-Jobs in academia are scarce, must publish.

-Academia is surprising conservative in terms of conventions one can find a journal to get published in, book publishing is more stylistically open.

Portrait of a Union soldier holding a hand-drawn map of Virginia; ca. 1862.

I think this is the early prototype for Apple maps

It looks he’s going “There it is”.