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 have been encouraged to make my papers more “charming.” That seems like an odd word to use in describing an academic paper. Is my professor setting me up to fail?

You sound oddly distrusting of your professor. In my experience, classroom instructors work hard to help their students succeed, not fail. Of course, there is the occasional miscreant standing in front of the classroom who encourages student failure as a backhanded compliment to his self-declared high standards. Tenure is wasted on such people, and I am sorry for you if you are stuck with such a don. However, I will assume for the purposes of this column that your professor has your best interests at heart in advising you to become more “charming” as a writer.

In fact, I rather like the professor’s word choice. The definition of “charming” is “extremely pleasing or delightful.” Is there something in the DNA of an academic paper that precludes writing that is delightsome and pleasant? I think not. Too many academicians—though certainly not all—seem to labor under the weight of accumulated degrees; their capacity for joy has been squeezed right out of them. Delightful writing always is acceptable and should be joyously received. Yes, academic writers must be substantive, but they should try to delight their readers.

A writer charms readers by pleasantly surprising them. It is true that academic writing seriously examines important topics, so it is not a place for frivolous composition. Papers are straight-line writing projects without room for detours, even pleasant ones. Yet fresh expression of ideas through imagery and imaginative word choice doesn’t sidetrack a paper. Subtle wit that is pertinent is not a defect. Writing a paper so that the eventual reader might actually enjoy it is not a perverse impulse. Remember, academic writers are two people in one: academics, and writers.

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