Don’t write beautifully, write precisely….

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be taught by me will have heard me say,

“Don’t write beautifully, write precisely….”

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the use of conjunctive adverbs/connectives/cause and effect signal words (whatever you or Michael Gove wants to call them). There is lots of advice on how to use them. Have a page.

At some stage in our education we are taught that thus, however, therefore, despite, etc. are incredibly powerful words to make us seem clever.

Unfortunately, relatively few people seem to learn before starting a PhD either what they actually mean  or when, or even whether, to use them. The result is that they are sprinkled like confetti, randomly.

My friend Gabrielle Lyons puts it this way: “They are taught that connectors makes their work look more coherent. Sadly, they haven’t learned that connectors help to express logic: they don’t produce it.”

The worst mistake is using words that imply causality where no causality is evidenced, but the second worst mistake is often just using them in the first place, too often they are redundancies. When you are line editing, go through and strike out any that do not move the meaning on.

A short table of conjunctive adverbs (and one annoying phrase) and their meanings or uses.

accordingly as a result
also in addition; too.
besides apart from.
consequently as a result (there must be causality involved)
conversely introducing a statement or idea which reverses one that has just been made or referred to
despite without being affected by; in spite of.
equally in the same manner or to the same extent, or, in addition and having the same importance (used to introduce a further comment)
finally used to introduce a final point or reason.
furthermore in addition
hence as a consequence; for this reason
henceforth from this or that time on
however used to introduce a statement that contrasts with or seems to contradict something that has been said previously.
In fact Just don’t use this one: if it’s a fact you don’t need to reinforce it. If it isn’t a fact it doesn’t become one for making the claim.
indeed used to emphasize a statement or response confirming something already suggested
likewise in the same way; also.
meanwhile in the intervening period of time, or, at the same time
moreover as a further matter; besides (an intensification, adding detail)
nevertheless in spite of that; notwithstanding; all the same
nonetheless in spite of that;
on the other hand alternatively (which is also a less coloquial form)
otherwise in other respects; apart from that.
significantly in a sufficiently great or important way as to be worthy of attention
similarly used to indicate a similarity between two facts or events
subsequently after a particular thing has happened; afterwards (unlike consequently, it does not imply causality)
therefore for that reason; consequently (there must be causality)
thus as a result or consequence of this; therefore (there must be causality)

 

 

 

 

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There are many ways we experience disability… not all are obvious.

One of the people with whom I’ve done a lot of work over the years on supporting inclusion at events, is Alison Baker of the University of East London. Alison teaches Education and has a diagnosis of dyspraxia. This is a piece she wrote about her experiences and needs.

Neurodiversity in academia and fan spaces: building in inclusion

 

 

 

On the ideology of citation methods.

I am sure I am not the first person to write on this topic so please feel free to link me to more considered analysis and also to tell me the purpose of citation methods in your discipline.

I began academic life as a historian. As such I learned to work with and to love Chicago. As an editor and author however I have used MLA, and as a student I have used Harvard. Being a dedicated Chicago person I have sworn long and loud about both MLA and Harvard. This post is not about that.

In recent years I have begun to notice that when citation methods are presented to students, they are always presented in discussions of plagiarism. The choice of citation method is always taken for granted as “this is just what the department requires”. There is relatively little discussion of why the choice of a particular citation method in a discipline. The consequence is that students get very anxious about whether they have cited enough or properly and citation becomes functional rather than part of their research process. Below are my own thoughts on why we do what we do with each method. These thoughts may be wrong, but I’ve found that discussing it this way has helped students to see citation as intrinsic to what they write, rather than defensive.

Chicago/footnotes (or if they force you, endnotes): as a historian I am wedded to footnotes. A Chicago footnote gives all the detail you could possibly want; it lets you cite letters, web sites, personal correspondence all in great detail. A standard footnote in my PhD was two lines long

  1. Ie Esther Farquhar to AFSC, 2 February 1938. Committee on Spain, 1938: Correspondence, Murcia, Esther Farquhar (Box 8).

It would have been longer but that (Box 8) unpacks as General Files 1938 Foreign Service – Spain (Correspondence, Murcia, Esther Farquhar – 
Finance) in the Bibliography.

What on earth is the point of this? Well as I found last year, at least one person has followed back these detailed footnotes in order to check if I got things right, to recontextualise what I wrote on the basis of the letters either side, and generally to make a very different use of the material than I did.

Chicago enables you to track material to the source and use it for very different purposes. One way to think of it is that Chicago is the thread you follow back in the research labyrinth. Also one asset of Chicago is that it always reminds you when something was produced and can draw your attention even in secondary works to different editions or versions of something.

MLA in text citation and expansive endnotes: MLA citation looks like this (Shakespeare: 2009, 35) the first time it’s used, then (Shakespeare 45). It is usually placed at the end of the sentence, although Debbie Gascoyne offers this configuration if the edition doesn’t matter:

 (Hamlet I.ii.75) for act, scene and line – applicable to any printed version of the play but with the full details of the specific edition in the wks cited. Your DWJ book would be (Mendlesohn 43) if that was the only work cited, and if I had more than one work by you it would be (Mendlesohn, DWJ 43). Only (43) if I had mentioned your name in the sentence.

(And that as an author I’ve been asked to use all of these and a few more approaches is one reason why I continue to prefer Chicago).

It can drive historians to distraction. What do you mean Shakespeare 2009? How can you cite him as writing in 2009? But of course that is not what it means and it’s very unfair of historians to complain (although as an editor I’ve seen unfortunate mistakes in which an author has come up with a line of influence that would have required time travel, because they didn’t check dates).

MLA citation is there so that you can check the veracity of what was said: did the author get it right? Have they honoured the context and the meaning of what was said? Which edition of a text are they using if there is an argument over which version of a classic they should use (particularly relevant if there one is working with one of several translations, or a text which the author returned to such as an Agatha Christie novel). MLA is less good for a researcher looking for snippets they can use on an entirely different project but it is good if you are engaged in critical argument and you all want to be (literally) on the same page.

MLA does sometimes use endnotes, but they are mostly not for citations: instead they tend to be used for asides and expansions and sometimes for quips.

Harvard in text citations. These look like this (Mendlesohn 2009). They appear immediately after the summary of an idea. So:

It has been argued that there are four primary modes of genre fantasy (Mendlesohn 2009).

Only if you actually quote do you give a page number: It has been argued that there are four primary modes of genre fantasy, “Portal-quest, Intrusion, Immersive and Liminal (Mendlesohn 2009, p. 5).

To users of MLA or Chicago, the first approach is bizarre. It gets even worse if you offer:

Fantasy has been defined as an exercise in belief (Todorov 1975; Attebery 1982; Clute 1995; Mendlesohn, 2009).

What is this about? How are you supposed to track down these ideas given that these are all books?

The answer is that you are not. These are not citations as MLA and Chicago understand them. Instead they are an exercise in situating your argument. It is a sad fact that you can get away in Harvard with not having actually read any of those authors, but only another author who has described their opinions. But this is acceptable because what you are actually doing is establishing to which school of opinion, or methodology or political stance you subscribe, or which school etc. you think has got it terribly wrong. You are identifying your critical family, and the line of descent of your thinking.

If you are a student, I hope that helps. If you are an academic of any discipline or an editor, please feel free to weigh in.

Citation matters, and the ideology of why we cite helps us to get it right.

 

Farah Mendlesohn

 

Delivering a conference paper: supporting your colleagues with hearing impairments, or, there’s no point speaking if no one can hear.

“Approximately 9 million people in the UK have a hearing loss. This is approximately 19% of the total population or 1 in every 7 persons. Hearing loss increases sharply with age. About one third of the population aged between 60-70 years and three quarters of the population aged over seventy years have a hearing loss.”  Deafness – UK Statistics and Facts

For some reason, deafness is the neglected disability in the classroom and in conferences. Even though it is probably the commonest disability–and the one that is coming to most of you one day–it is routinely dismissed as a minor problem. Before I begin I want to emphasise that even though my own mother is deaf, and it’s her progressive hearing impairment I have inherited, I was every bit as blasé until it came to me.

NB: if you are Deaf or Hearing impaired and wish me to edit, clarify, add to the following please email me. This is a work in progress.

Edit: My attention has been brought to his fantastic post from Sarah Sparks about using a Cochlear Implant.

Farah,

There are a number of key things to understand before I start.

  • Some people are born with hearing impairments, others gradually lose their hearing. The former if they are able/choose to use hearing aids, are likely to have very good mechanisms for dealing, and very high functioning hearing aids. The latter may be in the process of getting used to hearing aids which do strange things to sound; or may be waiting for upgrades as their hearing is changing. Both groups will have made choices about what they want to be able to hear and will have made some sacrifices. Hearing aids are, in their efficacy, less like spectacles than they are like a walking stick. Sarah Parker in the post I have linked to, describes them as prosthetics and that seems about right to me.
  • Different people have different impairment: older people tend to have high frequency deafness. I have low frequency deafness. It’s perfectly possible to have very acute hearing in one range and dreadful hearing in another.
  • Not all hearing is about volume: some hearing impairments are about interference (tinnitus) or processing disorders (what was that consonant you just made? do you know you sound like a really lovely babbling brook but I have no clue what you just said to me?).
  • Add any foreign accent and not only is hearing harder, but so is lip reading: I once had a student from country x who was used to lip reading her own country people speaking English; but in her class, the tutor was from a different country and her class mates were from around ten other countries and her well practiced lip reading just didn’t work.

Recommendations

  1. If you are organising a conference, make sure there are microphones in every single room. Avoid rooms with very high ceilings or glass on two sides.
    • Hearing aids are electronic devices that actually work better on electronic sound. No loud voice is as clear to someone with hearing aids as is a voice through a microphone.
    • If you are using a university setting, then the university owns them. Simple battery operated portable mics now cost below £50 a set. There is simply no excuse any more.
    • If it is a discussion panel, then you need one mic per person (max one between two).
    • You need a roving mic for the questions (everyone will be grateful for this, most people can’t hear if a question comes from someone in front of them).
    • All keynotes should be live captioned. (In an ideal world we’d live caption everything but it’s not cheap).
    • T-loops are good but not all of us use them for a range of reasons (including, if you have a t-loop next door my hearing aid would pick up next door’s meeting or their tv).
    • Consider Sign translation for the Deaf, but be aware that there is no “universal” Sign Language so that for international conferences you need to know the language of the user before you start, and that this will not help those with acquired deafness.
  2. If you are presenting there are generic tips here:
    • look up when you speak or read;
    • speak to the back of the room; do not turn your back when you are speaking;
    • do not cover your mouth when answering a question–some of us need to lip read;
    • don’t try to fit in too much: you may be able to speak faster, but your audience can’t hear faster;
    • put any data on to your slide, as this will help someone understand what you are talking about if they cannot hear it well;
    • put proper names on slides: much of our hearing (and this is true for everyone) is contextual, so I know what you have said because my brain fills in the gaps (when I use subtitles on the tv my brain is convinced I can “hear”); but this doesn’t work as well with proper names.
    • take important theoretical words or names slowly, even if you have said them a million times;
    • if you can, offer to circulate notes/slides in advance so that someone like me may read your paper and be in a position to ask questions (I have more than once followed a paper through someone’s twitter feed);
    • And finally use the microphone!!!!
  3. Learn how to use a microphone:
    • There are plenty of guides on the net, mostly for singers but everything they say is just as useful for speakers. Basically it needs to be close but not in front of your mouth: if it’s too close you will sound breathy. Do not do what one beloved friend does which is to wave it in front of his mouth so the sound goes in and out.
    • If offered a lapel mic take it; they are much better (if you are wearing a dress for a presentation, you will need a belt to put on to hang the mic from);
    • Teach others how to use microphone technique: if you are a supervisor, then when you teach people how to present make this part of the teaching.

 

Thank you for reading this.

Please circulate it, and please, if you have good hearing, be an ally and join in demanding microphones and that people use them.

 

How to Finish Your PhD.

I see a lot of advice on completing PhDs (the latest was at The Guardian this week) but very little of it ever seems to explain how to actually finish one, in those last, awful throes of “when will I ever be done-ness” that means you can end up spending as much time on the final checks as you did writing several chapters.

Below is a link to a set of slides I take students through to help them finally get over those last hurdles with as little stress as possible. I’d note that I use the advice here for every book I write.

PhD Boot Camp

Farah Mendlesohn

 

2019 Diana Wynne Jones

Thanks to  fabulous response from fans, the Kickstarter for the Diana Wynne Jones conference covered the entire cost.

 

You can register for the conference/convention here.

We need conventional academic papers but we would be delighted to receive proposals for play readings, workshops, and other creative activities.

Calls for Papers

I have added a new page on which I will link calls for papers for events for which I am involved.

My current projects include:

and coming very soon a call for the next conference on Diana Wynne Jones, which has just reached it’s target for the deposit over on kickstarter.