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Academic Writing Peter S. Cahn, PhD Associate Provost for Academic Affairs MGH Institute of Health Professions

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Presentation on theme: "Academic Writing Peter S. Cahn, PhD Associate Provost for Academic Affairs MGH Institute of Health Professions"— Presentation transcript:

1 Academic Writing Peter S. Cahn, PhD Associate Provost for Academic Affairs MGH Institute of Health Professions

2 Learning objectives Overcome barriers to getting started on writing projects. Present scientific ideas clearly. Edit manuscripts to refine the argument.

3 Thinking about the future $100 June 1 $110 June 2 $100 today $110 tomorrow

4 "If you wait for clouds to part and be struck with a bolt of lightning, you're likely to be waiting the rest of your life. But if you simply get going something will occur to you."

5 Getting started Cover the blank screen Write a catchy title Build from existing work Put headings in Start with methods Use voice recognition software Write a letter to your mother Write why you’re stuck Internet Freedom Create timetable Block it into calendar Touch it everyday Reward yourself Create a deleted file

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7 Motive The truth isn’t what you would expect There’s a contradiction that needs explaining The prevailing opinion needs to be challenged or qualified Several authorities’ published views disagree We can learn more about a larger phenomenon by studying this smaller one A seemingly insignificant matter is actually important A previous tentative result has now been confirmed

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9 What you’re going to say Point #1Point #2Point #3 What you said

10 GIPSY Test Grabber I argue that… Prove it So what? Yes, but

11 Medical Obfuscation: Structure and Function 1.Most medical communications are difficult to read. 2.Articles were taken from the Journal issues dated April 4, I identified 10 recurring faults in the Journal articles I read. 4.Medical writing in general is very weak. 5.One might suppose a weak tone is a way of anticipating and warding off attack. 6.On the other hand, weak writing is hard to read. 7.Contrary to popular belief, there is little historical precedent for bad writing. 8.Of course, it is traditional for physicians to conceal their knowledge from patients, through judicious use of language. 9.In any case, it now appears that obligatory obfuscation is a firm tradition within the medical profession. 10.But it seems important to mention that the medical profession pays a price for adopting this particular form of internal discourse. 11.A final point concerns cross-fertilization. 12.In summary, medical writing is bad, but its functions are perfectly understandable.

12 The Bible by a Scientist Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account. Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

13 “Major increases in the volume of prescribing of psychotherapeutic drugs in recent years have led to increasing concern over the overconsumption and misprescribing of such drugs and heightened interest in the pursuit and understanding of factors that might underlie or influence rates of drug use.” “Improvement in health care is based, to an important extent, on the viability of the biomedical research enterprise, whose success, in turn, depends on the availability of creative scientists and networks of institutions of excellence capable of producing research and teaching personnel of the highest quality possible.”

14 March 7, 2011 Pet PeeveHow to avoid Colloquial language “kind of” “humongous” Condescending tone “of course” “obviously” Confusing pronouns “this” “these” Vague descriptors “numerous” “several” Overstatements “virtually all studies have shown” Self-aggrandizement “Interesting finding” “Exciting” Needlessly long words “Utilize” “Approximately” Overly precious words “Elucidate” “Explicate” Abbreviation overload and jargon

15 Real Estate Ads Fantastic Granite Spacious State-of-the-art ! Corian Charming Maple Gourmet Great neighborhood Levitt SD and Dubner SJ Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow.

16 Learning Communities When do you find yourself procrastinating the most during a writing project? What do you read for fun? What can you learn from nonacademic writers? How can the members of the group hold each other accountable to their writing goals?

17 Source: Roberts JM History of the World. New York: Knopf, p The joker in the European pack was Italy. For a time hopes were entertained of her as a force against Germany, but these disappeared under Mussolini. In 1935 Italy made a belated attempt to participate in the scramble for Africa by invading Ethiopia. It was clearly a breach of the covenant of the League of Nations for one of its members to attack another. France and Great Britain, as great powers, Mediterranean powers, and African colonial powers, were bound to take the lead against Italy at the league. But they did so feebly and half-heartedly because they did not want to alienate a possible ally against Germany. The result was the worst possible: the league failed to check aggression, Ethiopia lost her independence, and Italy was alienated after all.

18 Version 1 Italy, one might say, was the joker in the European deck. When she invaded Ethiopia, it was clearly a breach of the covenant of the League of Nations; yet the efforts of England and France to take the lead against her were feeble and half-hearted. It appears that those great powers had no wish to alienate a possible ally against Hitler's rearmed Germany.

19 Version 2 Italy was the joker in the European deck. Under Mussolini in 1935, she made a belated attempt to participate in the scramble for Africa by invading Ethiopia. As J. M. Roberts points out, this violated the covenant of the League of Nations (Roberts, 845). But France and Britain, not wanting to alienate a possible ally against Germany, put up only feeble and half-hearted opposition to the Ethiopian adventure. The outcome, as Roberts observes, was “the worst possible: the league failed to check aggression, Ethiopia lost her independence, and Italy was alienated after all” (Roberts, 845).

20 Version 3 Much has been written about German rearmament and militarism in the period But Germany's dominance in Europe was by no means a foregone conclusion. The fact is that the balance of power might have been tipped against Hitler if one or two things had turned out differently. Take Italy's gravitation toward an alliance with Germany. That alliance seemed so very far from inevitable that Britain and France actually muted their criticism of the Ethiopian invasion in the hope of remaining friends with Italy. They opposed the Italians in the League of Nations, as JM Roberts observes, “feebly and half-heartedly because they did not want to alienate a possible ally against Germany” (Roberts, 845). Suppose Italy, France, and Britain had retained a certain common interest. Would Hitler have been able to get away with his remarkable bluffing and bullying in the later thirties?


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