I hope the exercise we did in class this week – capturing the essence of each paper in one tweet – got you thinking about how to write smartly and concisely. I would like to challenge you to adopt the same approach when you write your reading notes and blog posts.
In your reading notes, aim for quality, not quantity. Write one “tweet” that summarizes the main point of the reading rather than 2 rambling paragraphs that make me wonder whether you understood what you read. Capture the essence. The reading notes I ask for are not a simple summary of what you read. That’s too easy. You can keep a summary for yourself if it helps you, but what I ask for is an assessment – thinking about those ideas and deciding which one is the most important. As you saw in class, that’s not easy – it requires more thinking, less writing. Let that be your mantra:
More thinking, less doing. Work smart.
For your blog posts, which I have really enjoyed reading, I invite you to become familiar with blogging culture and expectations. I feel that most of you expect way more of yourselves than blogging requires. I asked you about this yesterday, but didn’t get answers, so I don’t know if my feeling is correct…
Not every blog post needs to be smart and well-documented. It is OK to post a short commentary, an example, a half-baked thought that shows us what you’re thinking about. It’s OK to keep blog posts short, concise, and smart. It’s OK to keep each sentence short, concise, and smart. Academic writing is notoriously bad. Unlearn it.
In academese, the writer’s chief goal is to defend himself against the accusation that he is naïve about his own enterprise. So academics describe what other academics do instead of what they study (“In recent years there has been increased interest in X”). They use many metaconcepts—concepts about concepts, like level, perspective, framework, and approach—instead of writing “call the police,” they write, “approach this problem from a law-enforcement perspective.” They turn verbs into nouns—instead of writing, “People cooperated more,” they write, “Levels of cooperation increased.” And they sprinkle their prose with hedges—somewhat, virtually, partially—in an attempt to get off the hook should anyone ever try to prove them wrong. – Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker, from his book that came out yesterday and that I can’t wait to read.
So, tell me. In your understanding, what makes good writing? What makes good writing for blog posts?