Thursday, August 14, 2008

Verbiage and verbosity

I've spent the last week and a half editing an article I need to send off tomorrow to the editors of a collection. It's almost done -- I just need to add one discursive footnote as soon as I get a necessary text from interlibrary loan tomorrow. (Now I have to turn to a review that's technically due tomorrow. It's going to be a little late, but since it's short and I already have it outlined, I should be able to get it done by the weekend.)

I sent a draft of this article to the editors in March and they sent it back with copious comments and corrections in June. There were, in fact, so many comments (using the Word comments function) that it was sometimes hard to follow them and I'm not sure if I really responded to every last one. This experience has taught me two things I can use in teaching:

  1. When it comes to comments, you can be too "helpful." Cut down on the verbiage and the message will probably be clearer. Concentrate on recurring and global issues and use a few examples; ask the student to find the rest themselves. Too many comments definitely overwhelm, and when they become too local, it's hard to see the forest for the trees.

  2. If you assign a "draft" before the final product, keep that in mind while commenting. Chances are the writer took "draft" seriously and didn't always give the greatest care to the details. Remind the writer that they'll need to do so in the final version, and tell them what to look out for (lack of citation, sentences that ramble on, or whatever) but you needn't go over these issues yourself with a fine-toothed comb, or else you'll be making much more work for yourself, doing what the writer should be doing (and taking longer to get a response back to them). Or else, instead of asking for a "draft" and a final paper (because, as I've seen, different people interpret "draft" differently), assign a paper and a revision, which changes the expectations for the first version.
That's not to say that the editor's comments weren't helpful -- though, again, a little overwhelming -- but that at times I felt a little sorry for them and a little guilty. They put in a lot of work I'd intended to do myself. You should have seen the printout of the "final plus markup" version -- the margins were filled with comments and changes.

Meanwhile, regarding my *own* verbiage...The draft I sent them was 20 pages. The final version they're getting is close to 40. That's right, I *doubled* the essay's length in a week and a half of writing. That's because a lot of the manuscript research for a lot of the detailed points I needed to make had yet to be done, and in the midst of doing it this summer, I found *more* stuff to talk about -- pertinent stuff directly related to the subject at hand. In other words, the draft that I sent them really was a draft, a work in progress. I hope this doesn't freak them out.

Anyway, all of this writing, every day, all day, is why I haven't been doing things like participating in the ITM group (re)reading of Dinshaw's Getting Medieval, or commenting on your blogs much.

1 comment:

Karl Steel said...

Good advice.

At least one of the ITMers (me!) have trouble keeping up with our posts too...