24 Jun

words that don’t belong in the 21st century

Ok, so I need to fess up that this post is actually a re-hash of one I made a few years back on my now archived blog Virtually a Librarian. (You can find the original plus interesting comments in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive.) I’m pulling it out for another go round today for two reasons:

  1. I just used the word ‘moreover’ in my thesis and cringed.
  2. I just saw a tweet that reminded me of how much I hate some of these words.

Now before I start, let me just say that I am not suggesting I’m a perfect writer. I once used the word ‘generalisability’ in a conference paper so I really shouldn’t be casting any stones. I’m a fan of using words and punctuation creatively. I am incapable of using tense consistently. I’m an editor’s nightmare. (Just ask the editor currently working on my thesis.) But you will never, ever catch me using the word ‘whilst’.

I initially wrote this post in response to seeing the word ‘whilst’ in one too many assignments, but it turns up everywhere. And I really dislike it.

Fifty shades of grey is a really good example of formal language gone wrong. The dialogue is stilted because it’s unnecessarily and unrealistically formal.

Just as the dialogue in Fifty shades clunks because of its formality, some words commonly used in academic and business writing are archaic, wanky and off-putting. For me, these words fall into two categories: unnecessarily formal, and clunky joiners.

Here are some of my (least) favourites.

Unnecessarily formal

These are a bunch of words that people tend to use instead of simple language when they’re writing something formal or academic. There’s a common misconception that ‘academic’ means ‘verbose’, ‘complex’ or ‘not everyday’. Stick a couple of extra letters at the end of a common word and you’ve elevated your writing to a different level of quality, right? Uh, wrong.

There is never, ever any need to use these words. Unless you’re the Queen.

  • Whilst: while we *always* do. I hate this word more than any other in the English language.
  • Utilise (even worse if it uses a ‘z’): what’s wrong with ‘use’?
  • Thus: often used in really complex sentence structures and it just doesn’t work for me at all.
  • Therefore: I can deal with this one sometimes, but very often ‘so’ will do the trick.

Clunky joiners

These are words people use to link sentences together and they are most annoying when they are used in a completely arbitrary way. An old friend of mine uses these words at random, without any recognition of the fact they actually have a meaning and need to be carefully selected. A few that really frustrate me:

  • Furthermore
  • Moreover
  • Heretofore

Used correctly and very sparingly, these words are okay. But there are much more elegant ways to craft separate sentences into paragraphs that flow. It’s just a little more work to pull them off.

Simple is beautiful

Writing economically is a bit of an art and it’s also a bit risky, I guess. If your language is simple, your content is on display. IMO, sometimes people attempt to hide less-than-perfect content with verbose sentence structures (I’m sure this is why some of the assignments I mark are laden with these words). For other people it’s less deliberate. They just think they have to use formal words in certain types of writing. But if you use these ugly, unnecessary words, you’re causing extra work for the reader. They have to dig through your language to access the content. This means you’re stopping your readers from understanding what you’re saying. And that’s never a good thing.

Does anyone else have a problem with these words? Or others? Please share yours in the comments!

#blogjune 23/30

18 Dec

my long overdue #acwrimo wrap up post

I started out AcWriMo with an ambitious plan: I was going to write 1666 words of findings every day in November. 50,000 words in one month, just like NaNoWriMo participants do.

The only problem with this goal was that I wasn’t actually ready to write on 1 November. I still had several transcripts to code and I was still integrating codes to form categories. It wasn’t until 11 November that I actually had my categories pretty sorted, but even then, I still had transcripts to code before I could write.

So in reality, the sun was setting on November before I got going on writing in earnest. That meant that in terms of writing, my AcWriMo really kicked off in late November and lasted until yesterday. But during November, I did do a lot of coding, analysis, synthesis and sense making throughout the month and I really feel like participating in AcWriMo spurred me on during this period of working intensely on figuring out what my findings look like.

Yesterday I finished writing up my categories, just over four weeks after I started. Four weeks ago, I had 17 categories grouped into three broad streams. As I wrote, I consolidated these and I ended up with 13 categories that formed part of a single core category. The category write ups on their own (excluding the write up of the theory and discussion of how the categories relate to each other, which I haven’t done yet) amounted to 40,016 words. I didn’t make it to 50,000 words on my findings chapter, but I did write just shy of another 10,000 words on other parts of my thesis. Although my month was more like six weeks, I did manage to hit my AcWriMo goal.

At the beginning of November I was panic stricken. I had two months left of my sabbatical and I hadn’t written a single word (well, apart from in memos). My teaching and service commitments for 2014 mean that at the end of January, I will no longer be able to do ‘thinky’ work on my thesis. I will probably manage revisions, but I need to have the hard stuff done. My goal of having a full draft of my thesis by Christmas was (and still is) completely shot and I thought I had no hope of getting a draft done by the end of January, either.

Now, I am slightly more optimistic. Assuming what I’ve written is okay (and I don’t know that yet – I’ve only just sent it to my supervisors for feedback), I may just make it. Or at least, I may be able to draft the remaining chapters, excluding my conclusion. What I won’t get done is revisions to my method chapter (which I wrote about 20 months ago for confirmation, and it needs updating) and I won’t have had time to incorporate any feedback. When I write about this, I feel pretty panicked. But the reality is, this is doable.

AcWriMo came at exactly the right time for me and the sense of community and accountability really helped. I get a lot of support from a friend who is at a similar stage in her write up, but AcWriMo added an extra layer.

But the single most valuable thing about AcWriMo for me was that I realised writing is bloody hard work for everyone – not just me. This realisation boosted my confidence and buoyed me up. So thanks, AcWriMo organisers, for making a real difference in my experience of writing my thesis.

13 Dec

my academic writing productivity pattern is shot

I’ve written about 40,000 words in the last four weeks. But I could have written more.

I have noticed a pattern and today, in one of my bazillion chats with my virtual office / PhD buddy, she articulated this pattern perfectly and I went “ohemgee, you’re right”.

The pattern goes like this: mad, crazy, frantic productivity > flailing about trying to be productive > complete lack of productivity > repeat.

I can write up to 4000 words in a day. (I know: I am very, very lucky.) But the next day, I invariably spend most of the day trying to get started and hating myself for my lack of motivation, my lack of discipline, and my ability to be busy doing nothing all day. So on day two, I rarely actually get any writing done.

And that’s a problem, because once I have a break from writing, I get stuck and I find it incredibly difficult to get past the inertia and get writing again.

Everyone talks about the sprint to the PhD finish line. And almost everyone talks about how it’s not actually a sprint, but a marathon. My problem is I’m attempting to run the marathon at sprint pace. So I’ll pump out 2000 or 3000 or 4000 words and at the end of the day I’ll practically fall over the finish line. The next day, I brush myself off and take another look at the finish line I crossed the day before and I realise it was actually a mirage, and the *real* finish line is about another million kilometres away. And then I am filled with despair over how much track lies in front of me so I stop and look for four leaf clovers. Then I crawl a bit more. Then I watch the crowd. Then I do some online shopping. Then the day is over and I’ve gone nowhere and I know that tomorrow the distance I have to make up is going to feel completely and utterly overwhelming so I’ll just do nothing and then that’s it!

I’m no longer running the race.

I stopped.

I have to go back to the blocks and start all over again. And that takes a whole lot of mental preparation.

12 Nov

and on the 11th day…

She refocused. She being me, and the 11th day being yesterday.

I kind of lost my writing momentum a couple of days into #acwrimo. I got some feedback from one of my supervisors about my draft categories and I spent most of last week working with that. This initially involved playing around with pens and paper and thinking a lot about how my categories fit together to form a theory.

And then I spent a couple of days building my categories and sub-categories (and yes, there are sub-sub-categories here, but these aren’t really sub-sub-categories – just points I want to make sure to note in the discussion of these categories).

Spreadsheet of categories

And then I took this spreadsheet and built myself a new codebook in HyperRESEARCH (I’m planning a blog post on using HyperRESEARCH for coding in grounded theory down the track, because I’ve worked some things out that I would like to have known from the beginning).

Screenshot of codebook

Then I coded a couple of transcripts with my new codebook and I realised my findings are finally starting to sing. At long last, I am not adding stacks of codes to the codebook as I work. I’m no longer finding variation, but instead, I’m just coding up new examples. Cue overwhelming sense of relief.

A short-lived sense of relief, though, because yesterday I realised I only have six weeks left of my sabbatical. And a lot of writing to do. My workload next year won’t allow me to spend very much time on my PhD at all – if any. At least for the first half of the year. So I am pushing hard for the next six weeks to get my findings written and my lit review revised.

Yesterday, I did the last bit of work on conceptualising how my categories fit together. I refocused and revised my timeline as well as my practical plan for getting this thing done.

And on that note, I think it’s time to write.

08 Jun

my brand of #blogjune

I’ve had an epiphany. Some days I just do not have any words left when it comes to blog-post-writing-o’clock. Some days I just don’t have the decisiveness to choose a direction for a post to go in and then stick with it. Some days all I can see are the typos and the clunky phrasing and I don’t have the energy to fix it all up.

I’ve got plenty of ideas – and so plenty of posts in draft – but some days I just can’t get them to go from half-baked-draft to fit-for-publishing-post.

This makes sense because right now I’m a week into a month in which I will do little else other than mark assignments. It’s hard to put down the (metaphorical) red pen when it comes to my own writing. Does this post clearly acknowledge and meet the needs of the audience? Is the plan or purpose of the post unclear? Tick. Does it acknowledge alternative viewpoints? Does it provide an exhaustive analysis of all aspects of the topic? [Hyperventilates]

So I’ve decided to modify the #blogjune challenge for myself. Instead of forcing myself to publish something I’m less than happy with every day, instead, I’m going to focus on writing 30 posts in the month. That might end up being a post a day sometimes, but it’s more likely I’ll post in bursts.

I’m blogging this June, but I’m just doing it my way.

30 posts in June: 6/30

01 Jun

k-k-k-katie blogs june (under a shining moon)

Cover of sheet music for the World War One song K-k-k-Katy

Courtesy National Library of Australia. Digitised score available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.mus-an6090122

K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy,
You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore;
When the m-m-m-moon shines,
Over the c-c-c-cowshed,
I’ll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.

My grandmother used to sing this World War One era song to me when I was a kid. More recently, my niece and nephew have learned the song and they like to sing it to me too. You might like to listen to this recording from 1918, although personally I prefer this rendition sung by my nephew, who was two at the time I recorded this.

For some time now, I’ve been debating what to do with my professional blog. I’m still debating whether to take it down, or close it off and leave it there. I’m leaning towards the latter, but either way, aside from a wrap up post, I won’t be blogging there anymore. I’ve only blogged sporadically for the last few years and while sometimes I’d love to jump up on my soapbox and write about professional issues, the reality is I don’t have the time to craft posts the way I’d like to craft them, so nothing ever makes it out of draft. I have a professional portfolio site where I post presentation materials, information about my research, and my publications list, and that site acts as the online hub for professional-Kate, so I no longer need the blog to be my professional online home.

But non-work Kate is scattered far and wide and so I’ve also been thinking about how I might bring together all of these other parts of my life in one online space. I decided several months ago that I’d set up a new blog where I can do this. I bought the domain name for this new non-library, non-lecturer, non-researcher, Kate-at-large space several months ago. And when I did, the first thing that sprang to mind was this song. I think when the moon shines is an apt name for this site for many reasons. It’s whimsical and pretty and reminds me of being a kid. There’s something poetic and idealistic about a shining moon, even if the moon is shining down on a less-than-poetic cowshed and a clandestine rendezvous at a kitchen door. And let’s face it, life is all about cowsheds and kitchen doors and we could all use a bit of glamorous moonlight to make them a little bit more fancy.

So, it’s June. Which means two things, and both of these things have given me a reason to kick off this blog now.

Firstly, a bunch of library and information types are going to be blogging every day in June, as they have done each June for the past three years. There is a whole bunch of people playing along.

Secondly, on 1 July, I go on sabbatical. Dissertation writing sabbatical. The thought gives me heart palpitations. And I’m only half joking. Why is going on sabbatical a reason to start a blog? Surely it’s a reason not to start a blog, since I’ll be spending the next eight months pumping out my dissertation? Surely I would want to save all my words for the thesis? It would be reasonable to assume these things. But I am an odd creature and the story about why dissertation writing sabbaticals and non-work blogs go together is a pretty lengthy one, and one I’ll save it for tomorrow’s post.

I’d end this post by asking you to take a look around this site. Except there’s nothing to look at. So… ummm… Maybe come back tomorrow.

30 posts in June: 1/30