Tag Archives: Writing

Writing Styles and Ethics

Consider this, you are tasked with the responsibility of writing a piece on what the people around you are doing. Sounds easy right? Sally eats a sandwich, and Bob reads a newspaper, done. But wait, the piece that you are writing needs to be in the form of a scientific report. Well, this little detail changes everything.

This semester I wrote a workplace analysis ethnography for my capstone course and it was probably the most frustrating experience that I have ever had writing anything. I am used to adapting my writing to fit the style that the paper has been assigned (MLA, APA, etc.). Typically if I am using MLA I write in a more personal and humanistic way, I use personal pronouns, and I use pathos to persuade my audience. On the other side of that, when I use APA I am usually writing a paper that includes research so I talk less about the personal characteristics of the people involved and more about whatever research was done on them.

The ethnography report that I wrote felt like an entirely different animal. As I wrote the paper I found myself painfully aware of the coldness of it. Scientific writing most often uses APA style but there is, I have found a big difference in a typical research centered article and a scientific article. I tried to structure my paper to resemble that of a science article, cold, clinical, void of any emotion and in doing so found myself questioning the ethics of the way that scientists construct present their arguments.

Let us not forget that the articles, and reports that we take as “fact” are indeed arguments, even the reasoning behind the style of scientific writing is an argument. Language and writing are ever-evolving. Charles Bazerman says in his essay “Codifying the Social Scientific Style,” from The Rhetoric of Human Sciences  language is “a human accomplishment,” which “must be constantly reevaluated and remade as the human world changes” (125). Science hasn’t always been as detached as it is today, it has changed and I’m sure scientists would like to think that it has evolved. Audubon for example was a scientist who recorded his findings on birds and plants in essays that he sometimes wrote in the forms of letters. This old style of scientific writing was accessible; one reading it could see the argument being made and then decide whether or not to accept it.

Today scientists construct reports that are unintelligible to most people. Why? Because scientists have an agreed understanding that the best way to communicate their findings is to remove any trace of pathos or humanizing qualities. If people don’t understand what they are reading they won’t question it right? But there is an ethical problem with this writing style. When information is presented in a way that the audience cannot understand they are cheated of the ability to make their own decisions about the information they are receiving. Scientific writing often assumes that the audience either knows nothing about the subject or knows quite a bit. Where does that leave us, your everyday people?

I cannot say that I agree with the style of scientific writing, or that I particularly enjoyed writing in the style, as I wrote I was faced with the overwhelming urge to change the style to something more reasonable. I understand the motive behind the control technique, but as a writer and a technical communicator, I say there has got to be a better way to communicate scientific information. Luckily, as Bazerman noted, language grows and changes as people grow and change. Maybe one day writers and scientists can find a middle ground between the old style and what is used today.

Bridging the Gap Between Art and Science

Sometimes the best way to understand how to move forward is to take a look back. Looking back over some of the papers that I have written over my college career I discovered some things that I could have done better, and a few mistakes. I also found some things that I did really well. Two years ago I took an Environmental Literature course. We spent the first half of the semester studying Audubon and writing short essays about what we learned. For the latter part of the semester we took class trips to the university arboretum, sometimes with a guide and other times exploring on our own.

Throught the course of the class I learned how to take my writing skills and combine them with the scientific knowledge that I was learning. The professor was enthusiastc about teaching us how to write about science in a way that was creative and full of emotion and passion, something that I hadn’t realized was possible in writing for science.

This new approach to scientific writing inspired the topic of one of my essays for the course. In the essay I wrote about how scientific writing doesn’t always take the form of the cold, clinical statistics and technical jargon that we are used to. I used Audubon’s Birds of America to provide examples for how scientific writing can be aesthetic and more importantly how English, in regard to writing, and science can sometimes have signifigant overlap.

“In the world of writing it is common for the scientific and the aesthetic to be compared, and in most cases dismissed as completely different entities. But why is this, is one better than the other well certainly not.”

For my paper to be effective I needed to use some of my rhetorical skills. I needed to establish a level of ethos in order to make my discussion relevant. To do so I used what I can now define as Nullius in Verba or “On the word of no man”. I quoted Audubon to support my argument, in the hopes of gaining some authority for myself in the eyes of my audience. To establish Logos I asked the question, as you can see above, what makes one field better than the other and then went on to attempt to explain the ways in which the two fields can work as compliments.

The best part about reflecting over old papers is discovering how far I have come. In the essay that I wrote I didn’t discuss the ways in which technical writers bring English and science together as they create documents. I wasn’t aware that I, an English major, could build a website for a scientific, or any other company that is technically sound as well as aesthetically pleasing. I didn’t fully understand the range of English, and the skills that I would gain in studying it, would give me.

Thanks to a few great professors I understand now. So when my friends studying various sciences joke about my English degree, I laugh right along with them because little do they know we could be working together in the future.

Reading is Power

Ever wonder why there are books on just about everything? We all had a favorite book that we read, or that our parents read to us, when we were children. If asked to explain why that book was our favorite one would learn the value in which we had ascribed to the story. Whether your favorite book taught you about good and evil, to never give up, or about the importance of friendship and sharing (like my personal favorite Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister) it taught you something. Books codify knowledge into a valuable, tangible object that can be reused and shared. Putting it simply the information found in books is the key to the spreading of knowledge.

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-high-quality-resolution-downloads-public-domain-archive-10As we grew our parents sent us off to school everyday where the same method of transmitting knowledge was applied by our teachers. Young, eager, and ready to absorb information with our sponge like brains we were handed more books. We got older and the books got thicker holding more information, more power. By the time I reached high school, the primary way to learn a subject was to read the textbook given on it. Why? Well if my above explanation wasn’t enough Bernadette Longo states in Spurious Coin “To summarize, we could (over)simplify this characterization to say that textbooks contain knowledge that purports to be exhaustive, important, useful, standardized, idealized, for the public benefit, and encouraging of systematized social stability through science” (p.71).

So by the time we hit college we understand one thing for certain if we know nothing else, and that is to read the book. The book holds all of the power by this point in our lives because we understand it to hold all of the information. The professors are people who are new to our lives and yes, they have to prove and protect their authority before we are willing to be swayed by their lectures.

Professors teach concepts, and then to prove why we should trust their authority on the subject, assign readings that reiterate what they say. It is true that the professor decides our fate on the grade in the course, to a certain extent, but the book is the key to information and the keeper of knowledge. Anyone who has taken a college course can attest to the fact that sometimes professors never use the book they assign, which creates a power struggle between the professor and the textbook and is extremely frustrating for the student, but that’s another conversation.

The point is by the time we have made it out into the working world we have developed a need for evidence, and we ascribe authority to whichever source can prove it’s information to be true. By adulthood we have adopted a way of knowing that has been shaped by our academic experiences, and more specifically the books that we encountered along the way.

I trust that there is a superior way of doing things because that is what my years of ascribing authority to textbooks have taught me. I trust that if I can’t figure something out there is a document or a book that can help me solve my problem. I put faith in the books that are assigned for me to read because my professors, authority figures, defer the power that they have onto the books that they recommend. I question what people claim to be “fact” until I can find hard evidence for myself. For this dependency on proof in the form of written evidence I thank the guy who said hey, maybe we should write this down.

Longo, B. (2000). Spurious coin: A history of science, management, and       technical writing.SUNY Press.

SHR, Graduation, and All Things Stressful.

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-vintage-book-childrens-thumbelina-illustrations-floral-1Today in my capstone course Aaron Alford, the Managing Editor for Southern Humanities magazine, came to speak to the class. Southern Humanities is the quarterly, literary, journal staffed by graduate students based right here in my beloved Auburn University, and until today I had no idea it existed. (That last statement isn’t entirely true, I had heard of the journal in passing but I didn’t really know much about it.)

Mr. Alford offered advice on everything from following your dreams of editing literature, to how he got started. The discussion was something that I very much needed to hear. Everyday I get just a little bit closer to graduation and the closer the day gets the more stressed out I become.

I appreciated the talk that Mr. Alford gave today. He mentioned different experiences that he has had working for Southern Humanities and I found comfort in the fact that I have had some of the same encounters working for the Circle. The biggest takeaway that I got from today’s talk was to be confident going out into the workforce.

Most people don’t really understand my major or what I can and intend to do with it. Everyone usually tries to persuade me to pursue something more “practical” a technical writing job to follow my technical writing degree.

That’s exactly what I’m doing people!

The day to day for a technical writer/editor might seem dull to you when I explain that in a job I will codify information and write and or edit it for the consumption of an audience, but that is exactly what I plan to do. I work with all forms of writing technical and otherwise. What I have learned over the years is that people don’t typically associate non-technical writing with monetary success, unless of course the writer in question is on a bestsellers list. There is the starving writer character, such as portrayed by Bradley Cooper in The Words that struggles to make ends meet that I can see pop into the mind of a person when I tell them what I do. That reaction can be discouraging, especially when it comes from those who are already secured in their careers. Mr. Alford was the opposing voice today, telling us to trust our capabilities as writers, and assuring us that they are not only sufficient but highly seemed after in the professional world.

The point is not every young writer/editor struggles to find work. I am confident that my skills in technical writing and editing will lead to success, and thanks to Mr. Alford I can stress a little less and focus on graduation and applying for positions. Maybe it’s corny but the follow your dreams talk is one that I firmly believe that everyone should hear, especially those of us who are just leaving the comforts of college.

Today was a good day.

Stop! Write a minute.

Boardwalk

With graduation looming closer and closer everyday, this week I have made it my mission to reach out to people who hold job positions that I would like to one day have the privilege of holding myself. This afternoon, as I wrote letters and questions to ask these people I found myself becoming sidetracked. I have to admit, I did find myself veering off to Facebook once or twice but what really stole my attention were the multiple opportunities that I found to complete Artist residencies. Artist you ask, like drawing? I draw, not well enough to make a living off of, but the opportunities weren’t just for that sort of artist. There are organizations that provide days and weeks of training to people looking to better perfect their craft. Artsmith for example offers an up to four week residency where artists can write, paint, and sketch their hearts out on Washington State’s San Juan Island. Yes I did just imply that a writer is an artist, because we are! This lavish residency might sound more like a retreat or vacation but the truth is I think it is, the best vacation ever! Think about it, doing what you love and at the same time getting things accomplished, in a beautiful and relaxing setting. Sounds amazing right?

Like most of my fellow senior students, I have been stressing over finding a job, and making connections in preparation for graduation. I have been emailing editors, researching publishing companies, and in doing so have neglected to do the one thing that well makes me, me. Going through Brevity and Rock & Sling reading all of the amazing works reminded me that the one big success that I hope to one day achieve is to write something worthy of publication. I don’t really have the luxury of being able to attend such a retreat as the one offered by Artsmith, so as hinted at by the very cheesy title of this post, I have resolved to take out a minute of every day to write something for me. Of course a novel can’t be written in a single  minute but dedicating myself to at least a minute of personal writing everyday will form a habit that I hope to carry with me long after I graduate and get a job, and that is to never stop working towards achieving my dreams in writing.

Getting it out

Alder Favorit Typewriter

I am in a Non-fiction class this semester and the only assignment that exists for this class is to write a thirty page portfolio. That’s it, any type of non-fiction, any subject. I chose to write about the death of my mother when I was nine years old and my attempts to save her, and at the risk of sounding like a cliche, I must say that maybe it chose me. Writing this portfolio has been crippling , nearly impossible and all over enlightening. I have written about a subject that I cannot verbally talk about. My professor, who has more confidence in my writing than I do, has led a couple of conferences with me, each of them more difficult than the last. Today was exceptionally hard. I found myself in a bad mood later that I cannot explain. Part of me regrets writing the pieces in the first place and the other part of me is just happy to have it out there. In the end I’m just so grateful for the power of words. I am able to write what I can’t say.

Gallery

You Suck!

Dear fellow bloggers,     Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t the “you sucks” supposed to start after you graduate? I am in an Environment and Literature Course this semester and for those of you who think “Oh that … Continue reading