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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Some Free Advice for Authors


Writing a paper is hard. Getting others to read it seriously is often harder.  Writers often make the second task harder for readers by overwriting and the review process often encourages it, with authors trying to bury reviewers’ critical comments under pages of caveats that serve mainly to obscure the main point of the paper. Here are a couple of posts that I’ve found that deliver some useful advice to authors (here and here).

The first post is on Elmore Leonard and his ten rules for writing. If you have never heard of him or never read any of his novels, let me recommend them to you wholeheartedly. He is a terrific “crime” novelist whose books are one of life’s guilty wonderful pleasures. As you will notice, not all the suggested rules will be all that applicable to linguistics writing (though if the paper is on expletives (i.e. it’s raining) then maybe the first one should be ignored. However, I agree with Taylor about 2 and 10 with one caveat. Throat clearing should be avoided but a concise description of the problem of interest and why it is of interest is often very helpful.  This more or less is what Krugman is highlighting in his deliciously nasty piece. 

David Poeppel used to emphasize the importance of explaining why anyone should care about the work you are presenting. Why is the paper worth anyone’s time? Why is the problem important? Why is the data worthy of note?  Why should anyone who has access to a good Elmore Leonard novel spend it reading your paper instead?  You’d be surprised (or not) how often this simple question stumps, and if it stumps an author, then chances are it will have baleful effects on a reader.

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