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

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to learn how to sprinkle breathing room in your academic writing.

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.

Part four of the Study Dude article on the book The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities by Eric Hayot looks at how to make sentences rhythmic, how to add breathers in your writing, and how to hone your academic writing skill.

The Flow of Sentences
At university, I discovered an epiphany: namely, put the stuff you want to downplay into a subordinate clause.

I discovered this through reading a letter that was written by a Nazi affiliate during World War II. The letter struck me as heinous as it contained impartially written commands on taking people to their demise. The university class dissected what exactly made such an inhumane letter socially acceptable during Hitler’s reign. One of the strategies involved removing the actor by resorting to the passive voice. Another strategy involved stuffing the touchy points into subordinate clauses, where these points would likely be overlooked.

This marked my foray into the world of textual manipulation. Yet, author Eric Hayot cites it as one strategy for writing compelling papers. Along with that, Hayot cites a number of other techniques for making your writing have rhythm:

– Put your least important information at the beginning of the sentences and your most important information at the end. Similarly, end each paragraph with your most important stuff.
– Try to leave with a bang at the end of your first opening sentence and your last sentence of your paragraph. Make these last components, if possible, gripping.
– If you have a complex conclusion, introduce it with two or three sentences.
– Put your boring stuff and tiresome facts in a dependent clause at the beginning of the sentence.
– Try to make only some of your sentences the standard eighteen to twenty-five word length. Put as much variation in sentence length as you can muster. Don’t let more than two or three sentences possess the same length.
– If you are talking about hurrying up, or speed, or anything to do with fastness, use short sentences. If you are talking about meandering, or slow pondering, or anything to do with slowness, use long sentences.

Make Your Writing “Ventilated”
Sprinkling in figurative language and jokes into my writing is something I haven’t quite mastered, although Eric Hayot, as you will soon see, recommends it.

The reason I hesitate with sprinkling in figurative language has much to do with my training in playwriting. In playwriting, you need to skinny down your text, and to this day, I fear that an additional metaphor might bulk up the writing with superfluous content. Yet, taking the content and replacing it with figurative language now strikes me as a solution.

I also wondered how people chose metaphors and similes without sounding too off base. How does one come up with a compelling metaphor? This mystery vexed my curiosity for a number of years, until I read in Hayot’s book that extended metaphors don’t need to be remotely similar to the content. I interpreted this as being able to take any metaphor and make it work for practically anything with a little tweaking, a little cleverness, a little creativity.

And everyone loves a harmless joke. Why not liven up your writing with a funny metaphor? For instance, in a book by Paul Sylvia that I previously wrote about, he made the joke about the necessities of life, such as knitting your pet dog a Christmas sock. I howled at the joke. Did it have anything intrinsically meaningful to add to the context? Not especially, but it left me in stitches, yearning to read more.

What follows contains some advice from Eric Hayot on the art of writing ventilated, or “airy” writing that has room to breathe, to pause, to laugh:
– Use different sentence lengths to add breathing room in your writing.
– Vary your writing from funny to serious to add ventilation.
– Sprinkle in figurative language to add airiness.
– Switch from a personal tone to a conversational tone for variation.
– Use parenthesis and longer sentences for a humanities type of feel to your paper.

Some Last Minute Exercises
How do you schedule the time to write? How do you even launch the daunting task of writing? For me, I schedule writing regularly three to five nights a week with a designated task to accomplish at each writing session. One of those nights included my creative writing session. I’ve forced myself to write on one night that I visit a library. Stuck in the library for two hours, I do nothing but write extensively. I finish a page-and-a half of creative writing, which hones my writing skills as well as produces material on an ongoing basis.

Another way to increase writing productivity includes freewriting. The freewriting process, which I’ve read so much about, sparks my curiosity. Hayot advises us to do some freewriting before our actual writing session. Previously, I shunned the notion of freewriting, thinking it little more than a meaningless brainstorming session, but the more I did freewriting in journals, the less anxious and more focused I became. I know that freewriting held many benefits for the student paper.

Interestingly, Hayot provides many exercises for getting your writer’s bone tuned to the demands of academic writing. Not only does he profess the value of scheduling writing time, he also espouses a number of other strategies that will make your writing shine:

– Set aside thirty minutes a day to devote to writing, preferably at the same time each day. Also, try to work writing time in during the mornings, as your energy stays at peak level early on and dissipates as the day wears on.
– Take two or three minutes to engage in a freewriting exercise, emphasizing commenting on where your writing left off previously and where you plan to begin presently.
– Find some raw data (a statistical fact, a primary document) and try to write a paragraph about it, in which you start with a theoretical question, lead down to the data and summaries of the data, and then finalize with your theoretical answer to the question. Ah! You just discovered the secret to writing like a philosopher.
– If you can’t decide what to write, try multiple alternative sentences that might work, and then choose the most appealing one.
– Try to sprinkle similes into your writing. Place them at different positions in the sentence, from beginning to middle to end.
– Isolate parts in your essay that seem to be side thoughts or extraneous information, and put them in footnotes if your style guide allows for footnotes.
– Start a writing group or organize a writing camp.

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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