Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quotable Tuesday

"The art of writing is perhaps the most important skill the scholar ought to acquire, and it ought to be the subject of faithful attention and practice. But the student does not acquire it; he learns instead the honoured forms of drab discourse, the arid niceties of documentation, and the simple-headed regiments of a proper bibliography. All that he might learn of a really profound and meaningful kind about the nature of the discourse whose exercise will be a large part of his life is relegated to accident."

- Robert Plant Armstrong, "The Qualities of a Book, the Wants of a Dissertation," in The Thesis and the Book (ed. Eleanor Harman and Ian Montagnes; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976) 18.

Well, if that's not a kick in the butt, I don't know what is.

5 comments:

Pat McCullough said...

Thanks for sharing that. That's great. Is it a good book?

Angela Roskop Erisman said...

Actually, Pat, this is a pretty old book (note the date...1976). And not, for my money, the most helpful and easily accessible thing. For books on writing academic books, I strongly suggest the ones by William Germano that I wrote about in April 2007.

John Hobbins said...

Hey Angie, what a nice quote. Nice to have you blogging again. I've been reading Karel van der Toorn's Scribal Culture. So much food for thought.

I wish you'd post about these things. I know you've thought about them a lot.

Dave K. said...

Is Armstrong intending to draw a distinction between "the student" and "the scholar"? Probably not, just asking.

I think good writing in any field has great value. I expect it is refreshing in the scholar's world. For research purposes, however, proper references, bibliographies, and other formal notations are important and useful, even when attached to bland or poor writing.

Angela Roskop Erisman said...

Dave, I think Armstrong is talking about academic writing in general. Of course citations and bibliographies are important (nay, critical). I think his point is that this is often all that is taught about writing, yet it's the tip of the iceberg.

I don't think good writing merely has "great value"---I think it is essential. Our job is to communicate ideas, yet our writing can be so poor that the ideas don't get communicated effectively. In such an instance, all the good citation in the world isn't going to help.