Quick Tip: Multiple long block quotations

by Heath Sledge

I used to call them "plop quotes" with my undergraduates. 

Quotations aren't a rest from the work of analysis and argumentation for the writer. Don't just drop long block quotes into your manuscript and run away, leaving your readers to figure out why they're there and how they relate to your argument.

Quote ONLY the important, memorable, salient phrases, and paraphrase the rest, connecting it to your argument. Show why your reader needs to bother with this material. You digest the quotations for your reader—you're the mama bird regurgitating this information into your readers' frantic, gaping beaks. They'll choke on anything too big. (Truly, most readers—EVEN ME—are inclined to skim block quotations; definitely don't bury crucial points in them.)

How writing is learned and taught

by Heath Sledge

This really excellent piece (http://www.chronicle.com/article/We-Know-What-Works-in-Teaching/238792/) lists the current best practices in the teaching of writing--all practices that I use with my coaching clients.

Here's the tl;dr version:

* Work with the process (research, draft, revise [a lot], revise some more, edit)
* Slowly ramp up the complexity of your writing tasks, both in the steps you take to produce a particular manuscript and in the complexity of the writing projects you take on. (This is why many graduate students are asked, for example, to write an annotated bibliography before they write a lit review. It ensures that you've finished the research and it's a simple, familiar summarization task; lit reviews are synthetic and are a much more complex genre to produce. This is also why a monograph--a sustained, complex argument--is the final writing task you'll face as a graduate student/early-career faculty member.)
* Be reflective about how each dimension of the writing task fits in with other elements. You can only focus on one task at a time, but metacognition and reflection WORK; keep a sense of the whole task as you work on each element. (This is why revision is the longest, most complex step--you are addressing new tasks while trying not to mess up the stuff you've already done)
* Pay attention to HOW the writers you read accomplish the writing tasks they attempt--form, structure, etc.
* And most importantly: Write a lot and get close, serious feedback on your writing

End-of-semester advice

by Heath Sledge

December is my slowest month. The rhythms of the academic year are fairly predictable, and the December trough is consistent: everyone wraps up their articles and chapters and dissertation drafts by Thanksgiving, and whatever isn't done by then won't get done until January.

I remember the craziness of the end of the semester (student freakouts! Grading! Finishing departmental reports! Looking at the dreaded Job List!) I also remember the absolute collapse into catatonia at the end of the semester. After grades were turned in, I always felt like I was physically incapable of doing anything except drinking eggnog and sleeping late and wrapping presents and reading cozy English village mysteries to rest my poor tired brain.

None of us are brains on sticks (and we shouldn't be expected to be). If your body is telling you to take a break—a real break—at the end of the semester, please listen to it. Self-care is a good thing. Rest your body and your brain.

The deadlines and journals and job applications and committees will still be there waiting come January. 

Happy holidays.

Quick tip: "wallpaper words"

by Heath Sledge

"Obviously," "clearly," "inarguably": my dissertation adviser (Jane Thrailkill, a fantastic writer and editor) calls these types of words "wallpaper words"--words that writers use to try to paper over a crack in argumentation or logic. When you find yourself using these terms in your writing, that should be a yellow flag: there's something you're leaving out or something that you don't want to explain or examine in that spot. Go ahead and explain whatever it is you're leaving out--your piece will be stronger for it.