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: When I research a subject, I find many ancillary facts that seem pertinent. However, usually I leave them out of a paper because they don’t seem pertinent enough. How much material of that nature should I try to incorporate into a paper?

This is an excellent question because it addresses the processes of elimination and inclusion. The line between relevant and irrelevant material is not as bright as it might seem. A sculptor was asked to explain his skill at carving a horse and replied that he simply chiseled away everything that didn’t look like a horse. Just so does a skilled writer include in a paper every researched fact that belongs there and eliminates the rest. What skilled sculptors and academic writers confidently understand is that their “horse” will be wholly of their creation and can look like none before it.

Three kinds of information come to light in researching a paper. Some kinds of information will be totally irrelevant and of no value. Some will be totally relevant and key to giving the paper substance and weight. The third kind of information is relevant, but not directly so. It is this source material that gives writers pause. It perhaps gives credence to an argument, but only indirectly or by inference. It is outdated, yet contains elements of truth and perspective. Toss it or include it? If it helps advance a postulate, include it. The question is, how can it be incorporated?

The answer is to synthesize the material. That is, to connect the more peripheral material to the main body of content and thereby enhance the whole body of work. This is not a padding process. You are not trying to bulk up the paper. Rather, synthesizing outlying material can give a paper context, perspective, and depth. The challenge is to find natural connecting points along which a reader can move smoothly without feeling he is on a tangent. When this is accomplished, a writer has expanded his academic writing skills and produced a paper of enriched content and appeal.


Posted at 2013-01-11 14:12:55

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