Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Editing Elegy

The process of editing a PhD dissertation:

The grad student stared at the computer screen. The paragraph sat there, too plump and florid, like an overweight tourist wearing a tasteless Hawaiian shirt. The point, the meaning, of the paragraph had to be preserved, for it was vital to the argument being made in the rest of the section. But it had to be made more directly, in fewer words. And, he noted bleakly, there had better not be any clauses in the passive voice or the wrath of numerous committee members would pour down upon him in the form of exhortatory blood-hued margin notes.

He deleted a clarifying sentence. Was that clarification necessary? Would someone reading the previous sentence know, guess, or even not care, that there was a potential ambiguity? The theoretical position should be obvious to anyone familiar with recent debates in "the field". And yet, it was possible that it would be taken as a caricature, a cliched stance, whereas the dissertationer was firmly convinced that his was a more nuanced and subtle appreciation of the issues involved. Maybe it would be better to leave that clarifying sentence in, just so that the sheer sophistication of the analysis not be missed. He hit "undo".

No comments: