Monday, September 30, 2013

Sounding scientific, and other bad habits

Scientific formality
The resistance continues. In a thread titled "Against the Active Voice," one of my 28,000 classmates wrote:

I think that in Lecture 1.3 some nice passages from the articles where the passive structures have been transformed sound too simplified for the written text. They do not sound scientific, I mean, after paraphrasing they are meant not for specialists but for ordinary people who know nothing about the subject. 

"They do not sound scientific."

In my experience as a writing teacher, the worst thing that can happen to a poem is the author trying to sound poetic, or worse, poetickal. A poem can aspire to be true, or beautiful, or entertaining, or moving. Merely sounding poetic is too low an ambition. 

Formality does not disappear all at once; today's academic robes, for example, are nearly medieval. In America we don't wear them often, except at convocation and commencement, but when my father was a professor in Australia, there were many occasions to wear the regalia, including weekly dinners. Today's scientists no longer wear frock coats and tails in the lab. Why would they want to write as if they did?

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