Professor Pedantic 教授的考究學問

The professor awaits your query on academic writing, though in all honesty, he doesn’t have a lot of time for you. He is a tenured full professor and working on yet another magnificent academic tome. Even so, he has graciously consented to entertain your question. Submit it and prepare to be edified.

QUESTION: I slipped up in my concluding section and used the pronoun “you” in describing the impact of a certain economic practice, saying “This will produce baleful consequences for you as a consumer.” My professor jumped on it and bumped my grade lower. Didn’t he overreact?
我不小心在結論的部份犯錯,用了「you」這個代名詞描述特定經濟實踐所帶來的影響。句子是這麼寫的:「This will produce baleful consequences for you as a consumer。」教授看了非常不滿意,把分數打得更低了。他是不是反應太過激烈了?

Far be it from me to know why your professor reacted as he did, particularly when I know so little about the paper. Was the inappropriate pronoun use an example of the academic paper’s weak structure generally? Has it been a problem that your professor has addressed at length previously? Sometimes even temperate instructors can lose their patience when it appears a student refuses to learn principles taught again and again. So without indicting your professor for reacting hastily, let’s simply revisit the general prohibition of 2nd person pronouns from academic writing.

In your example, “you” refers to the reader—your professor—as a consumer. Is that how you view your professor? Are your professor’s shopping habits applicable to the paper, and even if they are, is your purpose in writing the paper to advise him or her about how to shop? Of course not. Yet in dragging your professor into the paper by personalizing the reader with “you,” you have made him a conversation partner. Now instead of being just a reader, your professor feels some responsibility to contribute to the conversation, which he did by grading the paper lower!

You have unwittingly provided a perfect example of why maintaining academic distance in writing of papers is so important. This rule can be violated when a professor asks for such personalization. Some subjects, such as a first-person account of an expedition, erode the rule because the writer is of central importance and the writing can be consistently personal. Otherwise, for a writer to establish an “I-You” relationship with a reader is a failure of craft that leads to discomfort in a reader and, in some cases, to a disappointing grade for the writer.


Posted at 2012-12-28 13:52:37

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