- Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 2 edition (December 15, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780226041322
- ISBN-13: 978-0226041322
- ASIN: 0226041328
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article: Second Edition (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) 2nd Edition
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"Humane, wry, reflective, gentle, wise....A primer in the sense that it teaches the elements of good writing [and] a shrewd and subtle essay on the social organization of scholarship." - Kai Erikson, Contemporary Sociology "This little book is must reading for any would-be writer, social scientist or not, who has sat in front of a blank piece of paper...and wondered whether the plants have been watered lately." - Jane Delano Brown, Journalism Quarterly"
From the Back Cover
Both the means and the reasons for writing a thesis or article or book are socially structures by the organization of graduate study, the requirements for publication, and the conditions for promotion, and the pressures arising from these situations create the writing style so often lampooned and lamented.
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Some of the practical advice:
- What if I cannot organize the chaos of my thoughts in the form of an attractive product that I can then "export" to my readership?
This concern rests on a misleading dualism between thinking and writing, where writing is understood as the product of thinking rather than a process of thinking in its own right. Students tend to believe that, unlike them, adept writers simply sit at their desks and transcribe their perfectly orchestrated thoughts into well-structured compositions in one go. The dualism also blinds us to the complexity of the writing process and the different demands of, say, a first vs. final draft.
- Like accents, people's writing style gives away the kind of person they want to be. Classy locutions mostly have a ceremonial, rather than a semantic, purpose and, by dropping them, your writing gains clarity and loses pretense. "To overcome the academic prose, you have to overcome the academic pose." Writing style can also signal allegiance to a theory or school.
- Experiment with ritualistic behavior when writing. While it may be interpreted as neurotic and obsessive, crazy habits that you stick to can help relieve stress, especially in a process such as writing where you do not, however much you wish, exert total control over the product.
- Write first drafts "quickly and carelessly" precisely because you know you will be returning to revise it multiple times later.
- Collect pre-fabricated parts of text for use in the future if it sounds intuitively promising and remotely related to your research interests.
- Be frugal with your bibliography and citations. A bibliography was originally supposed to be about specific further information that the reader might find useful if your research interested them. For instance, a book that contains information in a generally similar area is not a good candidate for inclusion in your bibliography.
- Choose your metaphors judiciously. Trite and tired metaphors such as "a body of literature" do not mean much unless you are willing to say what the heart, brain, and other organs of that body map to in your metaphor. Otherwise, it is superficial, lacks seriousness, and is best left out. Metaphor, in this sense, is "a serious theoretical exercise," not a literary device to make your prose sound more flowery. This advice, obviously, does not apply to metaphors that are permanently built into our language.
- "Evasive beginning"s that are so common in scholarly writings are misleading and risk confusing the reader, if not the author. Rather than being suspenseful and Conan Doyle-ish, tell your reader where you are headed in the beginning. This does not mean that evasive, vacuous, almost meaningless sentences cannot be used in early drafts. On the contrary, committing to words can help you crystalize your thoughts in an iterative process. But such sentences have to be flagged and revised before you get your writing out the door.
Some of the insights (greatly expanded on in the book):
- Verbosity and "bulls*** qualifications" that shun explicit specification arise because writers want to avoid attributing causality or agency. Unnecessary words occur because writers want to hedge and avoid big claims or sound profound.
- Abstract words sometimes mean nothing in themselves, but "mark a place that needs a real idea." General words such as "relationship" or "complex" are good cases in point.
- The stories you can/choose to tell are more important than the theories you use to explain them.
- Rules are never as clear and unambiguous to have only one interpretation. This means there are no absolute rules for editing and the process is largely done "by ear."
- An outline might help in the early stages, but only if there is a dynamic interaction between it and the text. Writing frequently sends the author back to the drawing board.
In short, if you already have the first edition, there's not much point in buying the second edition. If, on the other hand, you haven't encountered this book before and you would like some useful tips on academic writing, it's well worth the price.