11.0099 bad writing

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 13 Jun 1997 09:46:20 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 99.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca> (8)
Subject: Re: 11.0092 bad writing

[2] From: Jeff Finlay <FINLAYJI@guvax.acc.georgetown.edu> (27)
Subject: bad writing

[3] From: "Paul [not \"Brian\"] Brians" (20)
Subject: Bad scholarly writing

[4] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: computing and the theoretical?

Date: Thu, 12 Jun 1997 09:29:33 +0000
From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 11.0092 bad writing

> In response to the other comments on "bad writing" I'd like to suggest
> that the philosophical parameters of "bad" be extended beyond mere
> examples of syntax being unable to convey abstruse theoretical
> meanings to writing that is based upon a specious premise, writing
> that is overtly agenda-driven, or, as in the case of my Nazi analogy
> above, so emotive as to stimulate the reader's defenses rather than
> sense of reasoning ....

These qualities were present in the contest winners. I'm not sure they
were the primary criteria.

Date: Thu, 12 Jun 1997 11:49:05 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jeff Finlay <FINLAYJI@guvax.acc.georgetown.edu>
Subject: bad writing

> In fact, when I saw the "Bad Writing Contest," I immediately thought of
> Noble. For example:
> "This attack on the necessity for critical
> distance, this declension from the pragmatic
> realism of the founding fathers, this repudia-
> tion of the need for the reconciliation of
> differences and compromise then became institu-
> tionalized in the business community as the cult
> of the self-made man." (Page 107)

I don't get it. What's complex or bad about this? Anyone who knows
how to parse will see it as a kind of sentence more usually found
in oratory: this thing, apposite of this thing, apposite of this
thing then leads to this thing. Actually, though I haven't read
the rest of the book, this one sentence seems beautiful to me.
Perhaps that is what you mean by taking stuff out of context.
As a matter of interest, I found your message rather hard to read,
though it was probably not badly written.

> P.S. Out of curiosity, I ran this letter through the MS Word grammar
> program. According to MS Word, the averaged readinglevel/grade index of
> the above email is 10.1. Mea culpa--I should have said "anyone with a
> _tenth_ grade education should be able to get the gist of this..."

Well, anyone who gets a machine to judge their work is in really bad
shape 8-)


Date: Thu, 12 Jun 1997 16:23:20 -0800
From: "Paul [not \"Brian\"] Brians" <brians@mail.wsu.edu>
Subject: Bad scholarly writing

My own test of bad (i.e. failed) scholarly writing is the following:

If discussions of a critic or theoretician's work focus on whether people
disagree with him/her, then the writing is probably adequate.

If discussions instead focus on arguments over what the critic or
theoretician is trying to say, then the writing is bad (noncommunicative).
Homi Bhabha is a classic case.

I happily confess to clinging to the old-fashioned notion that criticism
and theory should elucidate, not obfuscate, and remain unimpressed by the
common stance: "Scholar X is making a brilliant point in language which you
are too dim to make out but which I can't possible explain to you in
different words."

Never has literary scholarship been so far removed from the "common reader"
and so irrelevant to the world outside the walls of academe. Modern
theory is deep into denial on this point.

Paul Brians, Department of English,Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-5020

Date: 13 June 1997
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: computing and the theoretical?

Let me attempt to nudge this discussion into our official common ground.

Many if not most of the complaints about bad writing among colleagues have
to do with discussions and applications of theory, esp. literary critical
theory. Is the preoccupation with theory over data constitute a flight
from the data into a less demanding realm? Does applied computing offer a
way out of the current mental labyrinth (if you think it so) into a
confrontation with the data? Do we, then, have something rather important
to offer in this regard?