Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dissertation Girl Writes in Technicolor, plus: the best writing guides on the web

This is a moment of heavy writing and editing for me -- revising dissertation chapters, cobblng together the next ones, marking up sheafs of undergraduate responses. So I have a reason for thinking about writing, and what's more, enormous incentive to think clearly.

My writing has slumped and slumped in graduate school, spiralling in a decline born of exhaustion, overwhelm, and neglect. Writing literature reviews for the economic literature about industrialization, for instance, wasn't the most titilating prompt for me. I entered a phase of neglect and sloppitude, from which I'm only now starting to emerge. Time to put bad habits to right.

Top priority: juicify my paragraphs about the roads. Aim for a pulitzer-worthy introduction, bursting with color and punch. Something like this:

The eighteenth-century traveler looked himself around for inspiration, directional information, and signs of the harvest, but he learned about his government in other ways. Ecstatic messengers on the post wagon told him about recent battles, and then he learned about government. Outraged neighbors told him about a case in court, and invited him to riot in protest, and then too he learned about government. The nineteenth-century individual, however, was never more alert than when on the road, and then he noticed every monument and slum around him. Government, for him, was observable in the everyday realities of life. He understood his daily walk to market as the product of government activity, and he watched it carefully for clues as to how the nation was doing. He met his friends at the coffeehouse, and they too discussed the proper realm of government control over property, alternative models of political organization, and the limits of collective and private philanthropy. They backed up their accounts with stories about other villages, harvested from the accounts of other travelers. The nineteenth-century observer was alert, critical, and precise in its assessment of the politics encoded in the signs of everyday life.

To that end, I'm revisiting the writing guides of the greats. I'm circulating them to my students, and reviewing their clear rules for vibrant diction and concise phrasing. From my page, here's the list:

  1. Poynter Online - Writing Tools

    Usethis quick list of Writing Tools as a handy reference. Copy it and keepit in your wallet or journal, or near your desk or keyboard. Share itand add to it.

    to writing history7b ... saved by 76 other people ... 13 hours ago

  2. AskOxford: Plan Before you Write

    planout a core statement which says what you will cover in the main sectionof the document – normally the discussion section. It helps youto focus on the task and the audience.

    to research thesis writing history7b ... 13 hours ago

  3. AskOxford: Use Accurate Punctuation

    Punctuationshouldn’t cause as much fear as it does. Only about a dozen marksneed to be mastered and the guidelines are fairly simple. A goodcommand of punctuation helps you to say more, say it more interestinglyand be understood at first reading. Li

    to punctuation writing history7b ... 13 hours ago

  4. Guidelines for Using Apostrophes Correctly

    Theapostrophe may be the simplest and yet most frequently misused mark ofpunctuation in English. Here we'll review six guidelines for using themark correctly.

    to history7b writing ... saved by 6 other people ... 13 hours ago

  5. Poynter Online - Fifty Writing Tools

    Attimes, it helps to think of writing as carpentry. That way, writers andeditors can work from a plan and use tools stored on their workbench.You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here's a secret: Unlikehammers, chisels, and rakes, writing to

    to writing history7b ... saved by 27 other people ... 13 hours ago

  6. UCLA College Library: How To Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

    help narrowing a research paper topic from UCLA

    to history7b research writing ... 4 days ago

  7. Research Papers: Hunting for Sources

    advice on effective researching and note-taking from Purdue.

  8. Developing a thesis

    Comingup with your central idea is the biggest problem you have to solvebefore you begin to craft a defense of your ideas or write a draft ofyour essay

    to history7b writing thesis ... 4 days ago

  9. The Economist Magazine style guide

    doing away with extraneous words, simplifying your language, basic capitalization for politics and history, punctuation aid.

  10. George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946

    rules for simple writing. skip to the end for summary. never use a long word when a short one will do.

  11. Writing an Annotated Bibliography

    how to research and write an annotated bibliography

  12. History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

  13. Effective Writing | Grammar Rules

    rules for clear writing

  14. Style Guide

    punctuation, grammar, and more


  16. Half an Hour: How to Write Articles and Essays Quickly and Expertly

Dissertation Girl Writes in Technicolor, plus: the best writing guides on the web

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogging for Lent

In Anglo-Catholic churches, we confess on Shrove Tuesday (before pancakes) and atone for our sins over Lent. Lent is one season a year when we're invited, with the rest of the church, to take our own place in the world a little more seriously, to inquire as to how we're doing every single day, to invoke some ritual that will draw our attention back to that fundamentally difficult problem, am I making a difference? (or the more fearsome question that follows it, could I do better?)

Lenten rituals usually focus on a particular sin. Folks concerned with consumerism or gluttony or self-indulgence give up chocolate; folks concerned with their own lack of seriousness commit themselves to serious reading every evening, deep meditation, or prayer.

Penniless dissertation-writers are rarely accused of either gluttony or a lack of seriousness. So when I go to the confessional tomorrow, I'll be having a chat with God about my personal sin for the year, vanity. Yes, vanitas, the antique-sounding sin that reminds us of mirrors, with the strange double-meaning. Caring too much about oneself: she examined herself carefully in the vanity. In the other sense, wasting time: Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

The senses bear examination: the first sense, dwelling too much about one's own self, looking in the mirror, wondering about one's prospects for success, being overly concerned with the judgments of others (one advisor's rather than God's?); the other, worrying about trivial things rather than higher things. Thinking to much of oneself and not enough about the world. Thinking one can accomplish everything and not doing the little things. Pretty much the same thing.

So this year I'll be blogging for Lent. Blogging, because there is nothing to make us remember how little one can do like blogging for a small readership, as most bloggers ultimately do.

The New England Puritans kept diaries only for their family -- a small audience, large enough to combine into a city upon a hill and a light to the nations. The million and mounting bloggers do the same, except that now, all their thoughts are archived in public -- an entire open library of Lenten meditations, the proud, the wise, the vain, all reciting what's important to them in public, some with self-knowledge and some with none. Here's to looking at vanity.

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