Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Learning to Write

I made it through a meeting with one member of my thesis committee this morning. Now this may not have been the best strategy, but in order to get through the process in a timely fashion, I left my thesis somewhat incomplete. I knew that there were issues I wasn't addressing, but rather than try to address all of the inconsistencies and incomplete points, I decided to see what my committee members wanted me to add and what points they would bring up. Normally this wouldn't be my preferred mode, but these are two very senior professors who's opinion I trust and this project is so screwy that I am trusting them to help me straight it out just enough for them to sign off.

The meeting this morning was the first outside feedback I have gotten on it. The big issues he brought up were all expected and so didn't feel too threatening. The worst part was his comment on my lack of editing. He went through the thesis finding lots of small grammar and editing problems. His comment was that I should work to eliminate these from my writing before I hand stuff in to professors because people will judge me negatively because of these small errors.

He makes a good point, but I'm still somewhat frustrated because I would have appreciated this advice during my first year at grad school. If this is a pattern, why hasn't anyone else mentioned it during my four years of grad school? Also, I already showed the thesis to my adviser and apparently she didn't catch these errors. Maybe the problem was more prominent in my thesis because I dislike the project so much that I did a poor job of proofing, but I suspect that I have some blind spots when it comes to grammar. For example, I'm aware of the misuse of "it's" and "its" but in my own writing that isn't something that stands out for me as a glaring error. Split infinitives? I know they exist, but how to spot one? I'm not sure. (This makes my editing of undergrad papers somewhat ironic. Often I can tell them that a particular sentence is incorrect, but couldn't explain to them why.)

I need an editing buddy, someone who is willing to trade drafts with me. Beorn and I do this sometimes, but I would prefer having a backup person. And I need to come up with some additional strategies to improve my editing of my own writing. Generally I just take a break from whatever I'm writing, leave it for a day or two and then reread it slowly for errors. I know people say reading it out loud helps, but the best I manage is mumbling it under my breath.

(Blog posts are posted as is, so I'm sure they are riddled with grammatical errors.)


wil said...

Were you really criticized over a split infinitive? That's totally bogus. People split them all the time -- in fact, I'm going to insouciantly split one right now. ;-)

k8 said...

A split infinitive isn't really an error. There are several "rules" out there that aren't really rules for English. Rather, they are hold overs from latin. Another example would be the not-really-a-rule about not ending sentences with a preposition.

People claiming these are rules are either pretentious asses or were taught by pretentious asses. If they want you to point to an authority, use Fowler's. In the first couple chapters of his book on style, Joesph Williams also debunks these and other false rules.

Panthera said...

Hey, I'm a good proof reader. I find reading my own stuff backwards works because I'm not "reading" what I wrote.