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: My grammar is nearly always perfect in my papers. I’m not bragging; it is just an innate ability. But sometimes I believe I care too much about being grammatically correct and too little about the flow of thought. What is the middle ground?

Good question. It reminds me of a fellow I know who would spend as long as an hour carefully trimming his beard and mustache without realizing how ragged his hair looked at the back of his head. The total effect was less than awesome. It indeed is possible to become too word-centric in composing a paper and, in doing so, lose sight of the purpose of the paper—to communicate an idea clearly and completely. Word consciousness is the equivalent of navel-gazing. In the end, you might know your navel perfectly, but you have sacrificed the whole body of your work to it.

I would suggest two general guides to help steer you away from excessive concentration on individual words and sentence structure. The first is that you pay relatively little attention to grammatical soundness in working up an early draft of a paper. The first draft can be as rough as bark on a black walnut tree; so long as the direction and thrust of a paper is established, word choice and sentence framework matter little. There is plenty of time in later drafts to revise, clean up, and smooth out the content. Run with your ideas first and see where they take you.

The second suggestion is that you not become enslaved by grammar. Rules of writing are established to free language, not to restrain it. If the framework of a sentence is too rigid, or word choices are too precise, life is sucked right out of the writing. It becomes stilted, or wooden, or vapid. You are quite right to be concerned about focusing too much on words and too little on the integrity of a thought being conveyed. In the end, a paper is about ideas, not words. Carefully chosen and assembled, a paper’s words should almost disappear behind the power of the idea.

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