[Note: I write "fuck" and "fucking" a lot in this post, and reading that may not be your bag. Or it might be a jolly old time for you! How do I know?]
|Sir Mortimer Wheeler telling it like it is.|
Some of these admonitions are more specific to my genre (academic writing on the boundary of social and natural sciences), and some are personal peeves. Mainly I just want to put these down to remind myself of what I hate about my own writing so I stop doing it. (This should all be in first person, but it's in 2nd person. Don't take this personally, I'm not talking about you.)
The Process: You've got to fucking sit down and write, or at least try to write, every fucking day that you scheduled yourself to. That is, you've got to be putting words on the page everyday, no matter how crappy they are, or if it takes all day to write one paragraph. Allegedly some days it comes easier than others, but if you don't force yourself to endure, the good days will never come.
The Only Good Dissertation Is a DONE Dissertation: This is probably the first, most succinct, and most accurate advice I've ever heard about writing a diss. Even so, I am still struggling to face the reality that this applies EVEN TO MY DISSERTATION. Can you fucking believe that, dear readers? Even MY dissertation is a piece of crap, after all these years of blowing people out of the water and being the smartest grad student archaeologist in the room. Wow. This may not be readily applicable, to say, writing your Fantasy Heartbreaker or your first old school module, i.e., it may just suck and that's not really good for the person that buys your product. Having a done module won't make it good, but the analogy is probably that you have to have the first shitty iteration of the thing before you can get on to doing something better. Somebody posted an Ira Glass quote about this a while back.
Fucking Times New Roman: I've written enough with Word that I'm used to Times New Roman font, but I have now officially grown to hate its look so much that I need to start writing in a different font. For a while it has just been background and corporate nothingness, but now not only does it evoke Microsoft and Bill Gates and his crappy glasses, it evokes the nausea and tension that have been the last several months of working on the diss. If you're writing a gaming product, don't use TNR, even if you're trying to emulate the LBBs or something like that. Or I will vomit on your game.
Useless Words I HATE: Archaeologists run the gamut in their ability to write either (in the words of the great Sir Mortimer Wheeler) "the driest dust that blows", or the most flowery obtuse garbage imaginable. Most lack the grammar or vocabulary to do the latter, and aren't empirical enough to do the former, and they fall in between the two. The ones aspiring to floridity (often those bumping elbows with Old World classicists, non-ecologically oriented Mesoamericanists, and art historians) or technicality (often those collaborating with hard scientists) will use words that sound good, but carry no weight. These I officially hate:
- significant, significance, etc., for big, a lot, important, substantial. I vow to never use this ever again unless I'm talking about statistical significance. I worked on a paper with a friend whose first draft had 23 instances of significant. In your writing, keep an eye out for words that you keep using like that. They make you look stupid.
- implications: Often a stand-in for just saying what the implications of your research are, and suggest significance ... ugh. Especially bad in titles and abstracts where you should just say the result, not vaguely allude to implications (which must be significant). [In the spirit of full disclosure, my first sole-authored journal article committed this crime.]
- timeframe for timing or date of prehistoric events. Given how shitty your chronology is, you probably don't have a timeframe, but you may have a sense of the timing of an event. And the connotation is wrong anyway.
- Bayesian when you really just mean you used OxCal to calibrate some radiocarbon dates. Taking a frozen burrito out of the freezer and putting it in the microwave does not make you a physicist or an engineer. Nor a cook. Running OxCal does not make you a post-classical statistician.
- suggests, indicates, etc. Most archaeological evidence is ambiguous, or at least when we're interpreting cause and effect, we rely on induction more often than deduction and the problem of equifinality limits our ability to say "This giant obsidian blade stuck through this person's skull means that he was an enemy of this tribe and was killed in battle." Usually you could also say something like "It is possible this was the king of this tribe and the giant obsidian blade was ritually stuck in his skull as part of the renewing-the-earth ritual and he was the most beloved member of the dynasty." So the writing gets bogged down in "This suggests that ..." or if you feel more ballsy "This indicates that ..." or "This is consistent with ...", all of which are dull words that suck the life out of you as you write. It's very difficult to just say what your observations are in a confident way, without obsequious qualifications, but when you can it usually sounds more interesting. But you don't want to overstate your case and get shit upon. These words are probably the most intractable, but even so other ways of phrasing the ideas may help.
- robust: Unless you're talking about a distinct group of australopithecines, then fuck you when you use this word. How is this used in the literature? To refer to one's own research design, data, analytical methods or theoretical framework. To the discerning reader it always looks like you're trying to cover up weaknesses in these things. Examples: Robust chronology-building. Fuck you. Robust inference. Fuck you. Robust set of ecological models for human decision making. Fuck you. Now lookit, I'm not saying all of your shit isn't robust. But why are you telling me in the background section a priori (and I know what that means because I know what Bayesian means, mf'ers) that all your shit is robust instead of demonstrating to me in the results and discussion that it is? If your methods and data are awesome, I'm going to know. If you keep talking about how robust everything is I'm just going to think you're insecure about your science or your genitals or some other part of your life. Chest-puffing looks like chest-puffing whether it's done at a bar or on the page. And equally likely to get you called on your bullshit (i.e., an empirical test of your robusticity).
*HA! Trick question! The Whisk makes satanic, albeit delicious, baked goods.