The Study-Dude – How to Write Like a Philosopher, Part III

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to learn the art of stringing rhetorical questions at the beginning of your essay.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

The book The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities by Eric Hayot explores the deep question of how to write like a philosopher. He won’t necessarily teach you how to write in a lucid manner. Instead of instructing on clear writing, he likes to visualize you floundering in an anxiety-riddled state. That anxiety strikes most philosophers as essential to good writing.

Craft Compelling Titles and Subtitles
Titles and subtitles can make your essay or book come alive. They not only provide direction, but also spark intrigue. You have a range of creative freedom from which to draw your titles and subtitles.

Unfortunately, however, if you want your title to show up on Amazon’s search engine, your freedom stops short. That creative edge goes backstage in favour of its technological rival: namely, the search engine. If you start typing in a letter of the alphabet, Amazon will show frequently searched words in the drop down box. From these frequently searched words, you can get a better sense of what words will get more traction for your title.

I’m not sure of the algorithm for library search engines, but I do know that academic titles need to use keywords common to the discipline. The disciplinary buzzwords or jargon can gain you traction in your title choice. I’m also not sure whether library search engines track most commonly searched words, but these engines do somehow keep record of disciplinary keywords.

Eric Hayot presents some other views on how to make titles and subtitles work for your piece of writing:
– some circles of academics write their intros and conclusions after writing their book chapters. The book chapters are often not written in the order the author ends up presenting them in.
– the introductions to chapters should come before writing chapter titles that are subject to change through the duration of the writing process.
– Wait until you almost or completely finish your writing before sticking a title onit. Hayot likes to start with tentative titles, ones subject to change depending on the direction his content flows.
– Craft your subtitles so that they are parallel. For instance, if one starts with a gerund (a noun ending in -ing, such as fishing), then try starting them all with a gerund.
– Titles should express a great deal about the nature of the work that follows it.
– A succinct short memorable title can make its way into the English vocabulary.
– Make your title descriptive and your subtitle surprising or vice versa.
– You can also simply omit your subtitle and keep the title (capping at seven words).
– You can start your title with “On” and finish with the topic of the essay.
– You can spice things up by assigning your paper a one-word title or by making your title long and your subtitle short.
– A surprising title would consist of two words (an adjective and a noun) or three words maximum.
– Make your title a question for a little suspense.

Sprinkle Figurative Language in Academic Writing
In a book by Helen Sword that I read and loved, I discovered that figurative language could take the abstract or the conceptual and transform them into physical, tangible entities. The joy in this discovery, for me, stemmed from the pervasive view that academic writing uses too many abstractions and too few sensory objects. I like to read about real things, not just strings of nominalizations that say very little to nothing in the end. Nominalizations are stuffy nouns that stem from adjectives or verbs, such as deportment for deport.

Talking about nominalizations, I recently bought a beginner’s relational data modelling book to read for fun. Perhaps the content was designed for beginners, but the writing overflowed with nominalization after nominalization. Just gleaning a simple concept from a paragraph felt like trying to dissect the author’s ego. Two authors involved themselves on the data-modelling book, and reading their inserts, I could see immediately which one offered the clear and compelling writing and which one pushed the strings of nominalizations. Given that the book sizes at almost 700 words, I started exploring alternative books.

Although Eric Hayot criticizes people who criticize academic work, he does agree that figurative language can augment writing nicely:
– incorporate similes in your writing (commonly with the word “like”).
– Figurative language takes concrete and abstract language and makes it tangible and or physical.
– Figurative language allows you to put in pauses, or humour and surprise. into your work. Start a new paragraph or section with figurative language and then get more concrete language to expand on it.

Start Your Writing with Rhetorical Questions
Rhetorical questions add flavour to any piece of writing if done well. If done poorly, rhetorical questions can take away from the vigour of a piece. Take, for instance, a piece of writing I had done recently. The article resonated for me at the time of writing, but as soon as I reread it, I felt disdain over a string of rhetorical questions placed at the beginning. The rhetorical questions, too numerous to count, stifled the continuity of the piece. Shuddering, I thought to myself, I need to use less rhetorical questions at the start of a paragraph or an essay. I decided to reduce the questions down to three maximum.

Little did I know it at the time, but I was on to something. You see, within the next week, I would read in Eric Hayot’s book even more strategies for using rhetorical questions, which I will now share with you:
– Rhetorical questions should only start an intro paragraph, section, or essay.
– You can even use multiple rhetorical questions in a row. If you use multiple rhetorical questions, make sure they take up the whole paragraph.
– Use three, up to a maximum of five, rhetorical questions in the series.
– If you use multiple rhetorical questions, start with your shorter questions and work down to your longer ones. Otherwise, you can go from a narrow question to a much broader one.
– You can use an if/then style of rhetorical device, where the “if” part and the “then” part aren’t logically connected, but, instead, are in opposition to one another. An example would be “If the camera proves to Janie that she is black, the community attempts to prove to her that she is white” (Burrows as cited in Hayot, 2014).

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

References
Hayot, Eric. 2014. The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities. NY, New York: Columbia University Press.

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