It’s 7. 30 pm and Pat is in the lounge room reading. She is examining a thesis but finding it hard to stay awake. Big Brother wonders what the problem might be and summons her to the diary room.
“Well Big Brother, it’s like this. It’s this thesis, I ought to find it interesting but I don’t. There’s something about the way it’s written that isn’t working for me.
Where do I start? How about there are just too many references and citations. I can’t get through a paragraph without tripping over the brackets. I’m not sure why there’s so many. A few indicative key references would be perfectly acceptable. I get to the end of a page full of names and dates and I want to give up. No more. Enough already with the name dropping.
And there’s so many statements about what’s going to happen next and what just happened. I’ve told you this and next I’m going to tell you that. Honestly, I don’t need so much guidance. I wonder if the writer realised they could let the headings and subheadings do some of the work. The headings they have are pretty meaningless – in fact a lot of them are just a waste of space. And instead of useful subheadings there’s just soooooo much now-I-will and I-just-did. This writer needs to take their foot off the signposting pedal. You need some of this kind of steerage of course but there’s got to be a balance. It’s as if the writer put all of this now-and-then in to keep themselves on track when they were drafting, and then forgot to take it all out before they handed the thesis in.
I can’t tell you how many passives and overly complex sentences there are. Idea after idea packed into paragraph-long sentences. Each phrase a point. I can’t take it all in. And one of these immense idea-loaded sentences follows after another after another. Give me a break.
Big Brother, you know that Foucault wrote about this? He must have examined some tiring doctoral writing too. He said
I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but bring a work, a book, a sentence, and idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes ‐ all the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms. (Foucault, The masked philosopher. 1977, p 323)
Good eh? I love that bit about handing down sentences. That’s just what this thesis does. Hands down sentences. And I really do want to go to sleep when I read them.
I guess that the writer thinks that good academic writing is like this. Kind of impersonal and distanced. Professional. Stuffy. Lacking in personality. I can’t tell where the writer is, what they think and what they stand for. They were probably worried about putting themselves out there but you know, I’d much rather read something with a bit of character that doesn’t cover everything, than do this kind of dead see-scroll.
Big Brother, do I have to read this? Couldn’t I do something else now like watch reality television?
What’s that? My challenge is to read another 100 pages before I can go to bed? Unfair. Unfair.”
It’s 9.30 pm and Pat is in the lounge room reading. She is examining a thesis but finding it hard to stay awake.
PS: To the three people whose theses I am currently examining, this is a retrospective fiction for doc researchers still writing.