Jonah Lehrer in WSJ: Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity [You'll find it very depressing if you are, like I am, on the 'wrong' side of the age spectrum]:
... In 1953, when Mr. Watson was only 25, he co-wrote one of the most important scientific papers of all time.
Scientific revolutions are often led by the youngest scientists. Isaac Newton was 23 when he began inventing calculus; Albert Einstein published several of his most important papers at the tender age of 26; Werner Heisenberg pioneered quantum mechanics in his mid-20s. At the time, these men were all inexperienced and immature, and yet they managed to transform their fields.
Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber: Good Writing in Political Science: An Undergraduate Student’s Short Illustrated Primer:
Leo Tolstoy famously observed that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 2 Tolstoy, happily for all of us, was not a teaching political scientist. Had he been, he might have observed that undergraduate political science papers are subject to a different logic. Really good papers are unique – each has its own particular thesis, style of argumentation, body of empirical evidence and set of conclusions. Really bad papers, in contrast, tend toward a dismal uniformity. They draw on the same evidence (garbled versions of what the professor has presented in class), are organized according to similar principles of incoherence, and all wend their eventual ways towards banal conclusions that strenuously avoid making any claims or positive arguments whatsoever.
This short set of guidelines cannot make you into a really good essayist. For that you need time, practice, and native genius. What it can do, however, is help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls of undergraduate essay writers. You can surely avoid being a very bad essayist, and you can very likely become a better essayist than you are already. What follows is a short set of suggestions, accompanied, where available, with cautionary examples drawn from online essay mills.
Writing for a popular audience ... forces you to figure out what the hell you're trying to say and come right out with it.
For me, that's the hardest part. At first, I couldn't bear to part with any of my ideas, and found it almost physically painful to cut so much. Then I realized it was like growing carrots. Similarities between weeding in the garden and on the page have long been noted, but the focus is usually on the technical process—what to take out, how to clip back sprawling clauses, and so on. But for me, the key similarity is emotional.
I love carrots, and eating them fresh from my organic garden is especially wonderful. But you have to thin aggressively to get a decent crop. I hate thinning. It seems brutal. I decide who lives and who dies, who becomes a carrot and who ends up just a green top in the stockpot. But forcing myself to thin carrots taught me a lot (although for a long time, I preferred simply to let my partner, a professional editor, do it without a shudder). I got a vivid sense of how too much of a good thing in the first version—in a carrot bed or an article—can result in stunted plants or spindly, overgrown prose.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal on Why You Want To Be An Engineer.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Links (Very SFW Edition)
Posted by Abi. Posted at 9:03 AM