You know how sometimes you are lucky enough to stumble across an author and you just adore every word she writes? Right now, for me that author is Rachel Toor.
I mentioned her on my blog before, and reading a new piece from her this week reminded me again of what a wonderful, insightful writer she is. I want to read everything she’s written. This week’s piece, “Becoming a ‘Stylish’ Writer,” was published in The Chronicle last month, and I just wanted to give her a high-five. It’s so true that a gifted writer, who spins prose that dazzle and intrigue, makes reading an absolute pleasure. But a writer who chugs out heavy, dull paragraphs makes reading a chore, drudgery, the kind of thing that I have to bribe myself to read.
In “Becoming a ‘Stylish’ Writer,” Toor quotes Richard Hugo, a poet and academic, who wrote, “In much academic writing, clarity runs a poor second to invulnerability." That seems like a pretty fair assessment of academic writing. But I also know that for the most formal genres of science writing, grants and primary research papers, sometimes there is barely enough space for clarity, let alone invulnerability. So it’s a bit of a tightrope walk, trying to write sentences that are easy to read and engaging while holding onto the argument. For me, it’s the focus on the argument that (I hope) keeps the sentences clean and not too painful to read. I can’t avoid the fact that my science writing is highly technical—it’s the nature of the beast. But I do think a lot about the logic of experiments, the structure of the argument, and trying to write a paper that I would (hopefully) enjoy reading if I were on the other side of the publishing process.
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PS For your reading pleasure, you should know that Rachel Toor has a website filled with her writings. I just read “Why I Can’t Avoid Dating Academics,” and I was laughing to myself the whole time. I can’t help it that I like smart men, I live in university towns, and I spend all my time on campus.