June 18, 2008

Mental drops in a scattered morning

Some odd thoughts this morning as I catch up on a bunch of things (but probably not enough):

  • The key difference between great colloquial writing and great formal writing is how efficient the formal writing is. There are some vocabulary differences (colloquial writing uses slang, while formal writing generally avoids it), but too many undergraduate and graduate students misunderstand formality as syllable-counting. There is some difference in the complexity of sentences, but too many students misunderstand formality as a greater density of adverbs, commas, and semicolons. Great colloquial writing uses stories and extended metaphors and welcomes tangents. Great formal writing illustrates and uses metaphors to teach, not to distract. Great colloquial writing invites the reader into a conversation. Great formal writing leads the reader by the eyeballs. The greatest writers can shift between colloquial and formal without readers' noticing. The rest of us mortals must be more careful.
  • Reporting on education research is too close to tourism and too far away from analysis. I see too many articles that describe a single study, report, or brief without any context. I wish I had an easy solution to this. Newspapers could refuse to print anything on research unless there is a "here's the context" piece that passes a good reporter's sniff test on reasonableness. The fifteen-minute sniff test that a reporter can try with any press release that claims the research is the "first" or "only" anything: go to Google Scholar. Use a half-dozen search terms. See if that research really is the first of its kind.
  • Birthdays close to Father's Day are good for my sanity, but not great for completing work-related tasks. The world gave me a pretty good birthday this year, ending with an exciting finish to the Cubs-Rays game I took my son to. (Is it just Tropicana Stadium, or are fans in baseball stadiums far more racially homogeneous than when I was a child?) It wasn't as good a day for the world as in 1991, when South Africa repealed its Population Registration Act, but it certainly beat an attack on democracy in 1972 (Watergate break-in) and sheer weirdness in 1994 (the interminable car "chase" of O.J. Simpson leading to his arrest).
  • I need a working time machine to help me with my workload. Unfortunately, my search on eBay didn't turn up much of practical value.
  • The last two paragraphs were examples of (not-great) colloquial writing. So is this.

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Posted in Education policy on June 18, 2008 10:39 AM |