Tag: writing (page 1 of 8)

Sitting staring at a wall for hours

Some wise words from author Warren Ellis, whose Sunday newsletter ‘Orbital Operations’ is well worth subscribing to.

Related: although she hasn’t specifically confirmed it, I get the feeling that Laura is working on a sequel to her novel Maybe Zombies. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it.

I remember a piece by Harry Harrison – maybe in HELL’S CARTOGRAPHERS – where he had to explain to his mother in law that when he was sitting staring at a wall for hours, he was in fact working. I imagine most writers will tell you three things about thinking time – it’s the most valuable work, the most frustrating work, and the least billable. Very few people in this world get paid for the hours spent staring at the wall. And it’s always frustrating, because what you want is for the form of a story to just drop into your head after thirty minutes in the chair, and that very rarely happens. It’s days or weeks of wandering around inside your own head and its stores, which looks to the rest of the world like you’ve become a vegetable creature whose circumnutations do nothing but slowly capture and engulf pieces of chocolate.

Yes, we are all outwardly lazy bastards — and if you are entering the journey of a creator of stories now, then be advised — you’re allowed to stare at the wall for as long as you damn well like and need to. Those days and weeks of farting around within the walls of your mind are what every piece of art people love come from. Every story you ever adored? Someone sat around like a piece of meat propped on a sofa until it happened. There are no lazy writers. It just takes some of us longer to get off the sofa and put the pen “on the attack against the innocent paper.”

(That line is from Olga Tokarczuk.)

You have permission to dream other lives and whole new worlds for as long as it takes.

Source: Orbital Operations, 5 November 2023

Content-neutral sentence starters and phrases for academic writing

As part of preparing for my upcoming MSc I’ve been working through a course about preparing for postgraduate study. One of the links from that course was to the Academic Phrasebank from the University of Manchester, which I thought was useful.

The Phrasebank, which is also available in PDF and Kindle formats, takes the form of sentence starters for when you want to do things such as explain causality or signal transition. Really useful.

The Academic Phrasebank is a general resource for academic writers. It aims to provide you with examples of some of the phraseological ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing organised according to the main sections of a research paper or dissertation (see the top menu ). Other phrases are listed under the more general communicative functions of academic writing (see the menu on the left). The resource should be particularly useful for writers who need to report their research work. The phrases, and the headings under which they are listed, can be used simply to assist you in thinking about the content and organisation of your own writing, or the phrases can be incorporated into your writing where this is appropriate. In most cases, a certain amount of creativity and adaptation will be necessary when a phrase is used. The items in the Academic Phrasebank are mostly content neutral and generic in nature; in using them, therefore, you are not stealing other people’s ideas and this does not constitute plagiarism. For some of the entries, specific content words have been included for illustrative purposes, and these should be substituted when the phrases are used. The resource was designed primarily for academic and scientific writers who are non-native speakers of English. However, native speaker writers may still find much of the material helpful. In fact, recent data suggest that the majority of users are native speakers of English.

Source: Academic Phrasebank | The University of Manchester

Image: Pixabay

Conspicuously sesquipedalian communication

Getting people to understand your ideas is a difficult thing. That’s why it’s been so gratifying to work at various times with Bryan Mathers over the last decade. We humans are much better at processing visual inputs than deciphering text.

That being said, as Derek Thompson shows in this article, you have to begin with the realisation that simple is smart. It’s much easier to just write down what’s in your head that do so in a way that’s easy for others to understand.

In some ways, this reminds me of my work on ambiguity, which was a side-product of the work I did on my doctoral thesis. It’s also a good reminder that one of the best uses that most people can make of AI tools such as ChatGPT is to simplify their work.

Shadow of person typing

High school taught me big words. College rewarded me for using big words. Then I graduated and realized that intelligent readers outside the classroom don’t want big words. They want complex ideas made simple.  If you don’t believe it from a journalist, believe it from an academic: “When people feel insecure about their social standing in a group, they are more likely to use jargon in an attempt to be admired and respected,” the Columbia University psychologist Adam Galinsky told me. His study and other research found that when people use complicated language, they tend to come across as low-status or less intelligent. Why? It’s the complexity trap: Complicated language and jargon offer writers the illusion of sophistication, but jargon can send a signal to some readers that the writer is dense or overcompensating. Conspicuously sesquipedalian communication can signal compensatory behavior resulting from suboptimal perspective-taking strategies. What? Exactly; never write like that. Smart people respect simple language not because simple words are easy, but because expressing interesting ideas in small words takes a lot of work.

Source: Why Simple Is Smart | The Atlantic