Thursday, May 27, 2010

Summer Time

This is the last post of the spring 16-week challenge. Tomorrow is the last day of my Jogging and Blogging discipline. What happens now?

Well, the whole idea behind the 16-week challenge is to establish two periods a year when you are working in a disciplined way, committed to making real progress on your writing projects. At the end of each period, you should pause and reflect. Did you accomplish as much as you had hoped? How well did you stick to your plan? How orderly is your process? The period between runs of the challenge should be marked by a different pattern of activity, even no pattern (if you choose). It should have a different focus.

You will notice the change here on the blog. My posts will be more impulsive, less developed. They will not appear just before seven in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but whenever I feel like it. Readers of Jonathan's blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks, will hear from me a bit more often. (Mainly I'm going to be reposting some of my best work from RSL over there.) You won't notice it, but I'm going to start jogging in the afternoons. I will be writing in the mornings before breakfast.

I'm going to be planning my return to research. This means writing a research plan that I can use both in job applications and grant applications. I will still have to edit other people's work every day, but the focus from now until I go on vacation (in July) will be on the longer term: What am I going to do for the next three years? Where do I want to be at the end of that? I have a rough sense of the answers to these questions in my mind. What I need to do is to articulate them.

First, for most of those three years I intend to work as an associate professor. This could happen in a few different ways (and various countries), but my preference right now is to find a permanent position here in Denmark where I can teach the history and philosophy of management (and management studies). Most of my research is in that area.

Second, before the three years are up I want to have written (and published) a book about the foundations of organizational sensemaking. This summer will be spent writing up the book proposal to send to publishers. Developing the outline of the book will very much be part of working out my research plan.

Third, I want to attend the major summer conferences (SCOS, EGOS, AoM, and possibly CMS) in 2011, 2012, and 2013. I also want to attend, and help develop, the Conference of Practical Criticism in the Managerial Social Sciences.

This means that I will have to, fourth, submit at least four conference papers a year. And these papers will of course be developed into journal articles. I intend to submit six times a year and hope to publish two paper annually (in journals like Culture and Organization, Organization, Organization Studies, Organizational Research Methods, JOB, JMI, AMR, AMJ, ASQ ... and even JMS!).

Fifth, I want to remain actively involved in doctoral training, but now as a member of the faculty rather than the support staff. I hope to be able develop my relationship with other institutions as a well (hello Corvinus! hello St. Andrews! hello Leicester!)

Sixth, I have been getting increasingly involved in undergraduate composition. Jonathan has expressed concern about the writing skills of business students. Well, I'm going to see if we can't do something about that.

Finally, I want to do all of these things (steady does it!) while still supporting the attempts of others (now colleagues) to get their work published. I want to continue to read and edit other people's work, and to discuss strategies for organizing and discipline the writing process. (This experience will no doubt also one day be the subject of a book.)

I'm looking forward to it. Real change comes slowly. But you can't just wait for things to happen. You have to get organized.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

JMS Suppresses Scholarly Debate

This is a bit of a long story, but the details are important. I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and I have decided that I can’t, in good conscience, remain silent. In my opinion there is an important conversation to be had in organization studies, especially among sensemaking scholars, about the way we cite the work of others, both inside and outside the field. We’re not having that conversation, and this story, I think, says something about why that is.

A few weeks ago, I tried to publish a critical comment on the new correspondence site of the Journal of Management Studies. Sally Maitlis and Scott Sonenshein had been invited by the editors to reflect on the influence of Karl Weick’s famous 1988 paper on the Bhopal disaster. While their paper raises many important points and does a good job of indicating future directions for sensemaking research (directions, I should note, that my own work will no doubt be taking), it also unfortunately exhibits our field’s characteristically careless scholarship, which not only rarely corrects past errors, but often introduces new ones. My letter to the correspondence site identified two examples.

The site is a moderated forum, so I had to wait for my letter to be approved, and after a few days I received an email from Steve Floyd, a general editor at JMS, thanking me for my post. My letter, he told me, clearly met the aims of “stimulat[ing] intellectual debate and discourse on topics that have appeared in the journal or on other topics of interest to scholars of management and organizational studies” and he added that they “would like to see it on the site”. There was a small problem, however.

One of the examples I had identified concerned what Maitlis and Sonenshein (2010: 562) call Weick’s “retelling” of the familiar story about a group of soldiers who were lost in the Alps but eventually found their way using a map of the Pyrenees. I pointed out that Maitlis and Sonenshein subtly change the story; they say that the soldiers found their way “through” the Alps, not back to camp, as the original story (and Weick) has it. I also pointed out that they cited the wrong source (Weick 1979, where the story does not appear, instead of, e.g., Weick 1995: 54, where it does) and that they would have noticed this if they had tried to identify the exact page they were citing. Not doing this, I noted, has become annoyingly commonplace in the literature, though doing it would make it much easier to check each other’s texts against their sources for accuracy or simply to learn more about the event in question. It would have taken me less time in this case, for example, to establish to my own satisfaction that the story simply does not appear in Weick’s 1979 book (though, again, since they wouldn’t have been able to find the page to cite in that book either, the situation would not have come up). As Mark Anderson (2006) has shown, Weick’s book, The Social Psychology of Organizing, has had an alarmingly uncritical reception, and this sort of gratuitous citation (for something the book does not even say) is probably all too common. It’s a classic, after all: everyone talks about it but no one reads it (as everyone says without knowing who said it).

All of this was presumably both interesting and stimulating to the editors of JMS. But I went on to point out that Weick’s own sourcing of the story is rather less than adequate. He did not just “retell” the story; he plagiarized it, as Henrik Graham and I pointed out in 2006 in ephemera. Weick has told the story many times (in 1982, 1983, 1987 [2001], 1990, 1995: 54) and, although his version is a verbatim reproduction of a poem that was published in the Times Literary Supplement in the February 4, 1977 issue, he never puts quotation marks around it. He names the poet, Miroslav Holub, in only two cases (1990, 1995). Weick says he “hauls [it] out almost every chance [he] get[s]” (1995: 54); and I suppose I haul out the charge of plagiarism just as often. It will appear, for example, in a paper to be published in Culture and Organization later this year. [Update: it has now been published.]

My aim is not just to expose an instance of plagiarism. It is to get sensemaking scholars to stop telling the story as “an incident that happened during military maneuvers in Switzerland” (Weick 1995: 54) and to stop drawing theoretical conclusions from it. Our only source of knowledge about “what happened” is a poem one of our scholars lifted from the pages of a newspaper. Some old-fashioned source criticism, that is, should get us to reevaluate the proposition that “any old map will do”. There is certainly none of the requisite “richness” (Weick 2007, PDF) in our basis for the story that would justify drawing new conclusions about things like “commitment”, as Maitlis and Sonenshein do.

Now, Steve Floyd did not wish, as he put it, to “censor” me, but he had run it past the legal department at Wiley Blackwell, which told him that my letter made “certain charges against Professor Weick that could be considered defamatory”. If I could remove that charge, said Steve, JMS would be happy to publish my letter.

Before I continue, let us pause for a moment to consider what that means. First of all, it means that I would be allowed to engage in an act of source criticism just as long as I did not reveal the true nature of the source. That’s rather absurd, but it should not obscure a more important implication. While not without its problems, Maitlis and Sonenshein’s scholarship not only lives up to but also exceeds the standard set by Weick’s work. (I can defend that claim quite generally, but there can be no doubt about it in the particular case I’m discussing.) I was being told that I would be allowed to question the scholarship (here, merely the result of carelessness) of two younger, less established scholars if I removed my more serious criticism of the far more established and far more influential scholar they had inadequately cited. The editors of JMS, that is, would let me question some lesser reputations if I did not touch the major reputation against which the rest of us are judged.

Let me stress that this would be the effect of the changes they proposed. It is not their stated aim. The only reason they gave for not publishing the letter as-is was the possibility of a costly legal battle with Karl Weick.

So I wrote back in an attempt to get them to change their minds. I pointed out that not only was the charge made in public already four years ago, and not only did Weick not at that time sue the journal that published it: he wrote a rejoinder (PDF) that was published alongside the charge. Moreover, when the charge is published again later this year, it will once again be accompanied by a response from Weick, who has not, to my knowledge, threatened to sue Culture and Organization or otherwise sought to have my scholarship suppressed.

In the frank exchange of views that now ensued, I pointed out that, even if there were a risk of legal action, it would be a risk worth taking. If a well-documented case of plagiarism can’t be discussed openly, our claim to be a scholarly community is rendered somewhat doubtful. Besides, could the editors not just satisfy themselves that the charge is true (and therefore not libelous) by looking at the texts? I was also surprised that they would react to such an abstract “exposure” to risk—a potential legal threat from one of their own authors. After all, couldn’t they just write to him and ask him whether he would sue? If they were going to protect him from criticism, they could at least get themselves into a position to do so at his request, I suggested. My arguments, as you may have guessed, did not persuade.

While working out my position on this, I went looking for a precedent of some kind, and found a both disturbing and heartening example in the strange case of Joseph Weiler and Karin Calvo-Goller, which I blogged about at the time. In his account (PDF), Weiler rightly described Calvo-Goller's legal action against his website (for publishing a negative review of her book) as "misguided and inconsistent with the most fundamental practices of all academic institutions with which I am familiar and with traditional academic discourse" (974). In addition to harming her own reputation as a scholar, he noted, such an attempt "to suppress a critical book review" (969) could have "a serious chilling effect on editorial discretion, freedom of speech and the very important academic institution of book reviewing" (974). For some reason, which I still don't fully understand, JMS appears to feel that kind of chill very acutely. It is willing to suppress debate without even the threat of legal action. While Weiler is standing up to the reality of such action, the mere possibility has here been offered as sufficient grounds not to publish. Moreover, by making this decision on outside legal advice rather than its own scholarly judgment, JMS effectively gives up both its own editorial discretion and my freedom of speech. To refuse to publish my criticism unless I remove the charge of plagiarism is, to use Weiler's words again, "misguided and inconsistent with the most fundamental practices of all academic institutions with which I am familiar and with traditional academic discourse". Sort of like plagiarism itself.

The immediate aim of my letter to JMS was to try to correct a long standing error in the literature. The more long-term aim is to begin a conversation about our standards of scholarship—and the difficulty here, it seems to me, is itself a sign of our need to talk.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Control of Imagery

In my last post, I said that your style depends on your ability to control the imagery your writing evokes. Edmund Burke praises Milton for stirring up "a crowd of great and confused images", by which "the mind is hurried out of itself". But Milton is writing poetry, and in academic writing we may rightly demand a more orderly gathering of images. Still, there has to be something for the imagination to do.

What is the difference between an image and an idea? In my last post, I chastised myself for producing a paragraph that seemed to lack imagery altogether:

Students sometimes fail to say what they mean or mean what they say because they don't pay enough attention to how they say it. This happens to the best of us, of course. Too often we find ourselves saying something that we think will quickly satisfy the critical theorist rather than something that might patiently communicate what we think. The danger in teaching students that words matter is that it activates our doubts about the efficacy of literary labor—and the doubts of our students. Too many examples of words that don't seem to mean enough may undermine their faith in the capacity of words to mean something altogether. And students need exactly this faith in language to work their skepticism through.

Though I claim that students do things, and that things happen, though I talk about danger and work, it's very difficult to picture anything at all. What I want to do this morning is to rewrite this paragraph as fodder for the reader's visual imagination.

When grading papers, we are too often confronted with our own skepticism. Students fail to say what they mean, or fail to mean what they say, not so much because they don't pay enough attention to how they say it, but because they have lost their faith in the ability of words to say anything at all. Are we, their teachers, to blame for this? More than once, standing before the class, we have been guided by voices from critical theory, remonstrating at our ears. We grow impatient. Indeed, how do you teach that words matter except by a labor too intensive for your doubts about literary labors to bear? Students need faith in language to work their skepticism through. We realize this too late, when we read a paper that says less than the writer knows because we have convinced them that, in theory, it doesn't matter what they say.

Can you picture it? One of the reasons I'm having such a hard time with this is that I don't understand that sentence about the remonstrations of critical theory. I don't know what happens when the teacher grows impatient here. But I still need to read the full context of the original paragraph.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Judicious Obscurity

On Thursday I invoked Edmund Burke's concept of a "well-managed darkness" to guide our revisions of a prose paragraph. Since Jonathan still isn't quite satisfied, I'm going to keep at it. This time, I want to begin with what Burke calls "judicious obscurity", which he emphasizes in his argument for the superiority of poetry over painting in arousing the passions. He cites a description of Satan in Paradise Lost and glosses it as follows:

The mind is hurried out of itself, by a crowd of great and confused images; which affect because they are crowded and confused. For, separate them, and you lose much of the greatness; and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness. The images raised by poetry are always of this obscure kind; though in general the effects of poetry are by no means to be attributed to the images it raises; which point we shall examine more at large hereafter. But painting, when we have allowed for the pleasure of imitation, can only affect simply by the images it presents; and even in painting, a judicious obscurity in some things contributes to the effect of the picture; because the images in painting are exactly similar to those in nature; and in nature, dark, confused, uncertain images have a greater power on the fancy to form the grander passions, than those have which are more clear and determinate. (On the Sublime and Beautiful, II, 5)

The key to this argument, of course, is the function of images. While the ultimate purpose of academic writing is to establish a (logical) interrelation between claims, our style is better understood as dependent on our control of imagery. Let's see what this means in practice.

Our editing last week resulted in this paragraph, which I now want to propose we read while paying particular attention to the "images" involved:

Students sometimes fail to say what they mean or mean what they say because they don't pay enough attention to how they say it. This happens to the best of us, of course. Too often we find ourselves saying something that we think will quickly satisfy the critical theorist rather than something that might patiently communicate what we think. For how do you teach that words matter except by a labor too intensive for your doubts about literary labors to bear? Too many examples of words that don't seem to mean enough may undermine our faith in the capacity of words to mean something altogether. Students need exactly this faith in language to work their skepticism through.

In rereading it, I am struck by how little imagery it includes. In fact, my rewriting of Dauber and Jost, removed what is arguably the only image in the passage: "we hear instead, over our own shoulders, voices remonstrating at us from the marketplace of critical theory". I replaced this image with the idea of "saying something that we think will quickly satisfy the critical theorist rather than something that might patiently communicate what we think". And it's actually the clarity of this idea that Jonathan takes issue with.

What if I had not rushed to clarify the image by putting an idea in its place? What if I had tried to clarify the image as an image? Here's the original sentence in full:

Except that, too often lacking conviction ourselves in the efficacy of attention to words, we hear instead, over our own shoulders, voices remonstrating at us from the marketplace of critical theory, and we grow impatient.

One of the reasons this image is less than clear is that the setting is not specified. Do we hear these voices in the classroom? Or do we hear them at our desks while correcting our students' papers? Here it important to keep in mind that we're taking this very much out of context. For Thursday, I'm going to see if I can find the passage in full and rewrite it as a "scene" with a clearly defined setting in which the teacher's work may be undermined by impatience.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Well-Managed Darkness

"In reality, a great clearness helps but little towards affecting the passions,
as it is in some sort an enemy to all enthusiasms whatsoever."
Edmund Burke

"It is hard to picture a doubt bearing the burden of a labor."
Jonathan Mayhew


I want to show you something. First, here's the "miserable" passage Jonathan gave us last week:

Perhaps we ought to say, "You do not say what you mean or mean what you say, for you have not attended to the saying of it." Except that, too often lacking conviction ourselves in the efficacy of attention to words, we hear instead, over our own shoulders, voices remonstrating at us from the marketplace of critical theory, and we grow impatient. For how do you teach that words matter except by a labor too intensive for your doubts about literary labors to bear? How do you demonstrate such mattering except by giving examples, by patiently showing it to yourself and to students so caught up in the skepticism you have taught them that they have lost the faith necessary for working their skepticism through?

And here's the rewrite (slightly rewritten again) I proposed on Tuesday:

Students sometimes fail to say what they mean or mean what they say because they don't pay enough attention to how they say it. This happens to the best of us, of course. Too often we find ourselves saying something that we think will quickly satisfy the critical theorist rather than something that might patiently communicate what we think. The danger in teaching students that words matter is that it activates our doubts about the efficacy of literary labor—and the doubts of our students. Too many examples of words that don't seem to mean enough may undermine their faith in the capacity of words to mean something altogether. And students need exactly this faith in language to work their skepticism through.

In the comments, Matt and Jonathan agreed that this is probably a better, certainly a clearer, way of saying it. Where the first was mainly an expression of self-doubt, the second becomes a suggestion (or at least a gesture at a suggestion) for how to deal with such doubts. Now, it is of course precisely unclear whether that is what the original passage meant. (I.e., the original was unclear about its meaning.) Worse, since the second passage was not really produced by editing the original but by rewriting it to express what I think it means, it has very definitely lost the "voice" of the original. Jonathan accurately described that voice as "angst-ridden".

"To make anything very terrible," said Edmund Burke, "obscurity seems in general to be necessary." He grounded Milton's mastery of "the sublime" in "the power of a well-managed darkness", a phrase I have carried with me since I first read it. What the original passage lacks is not darkness (it is wholly obscure) but better management. Unfortunately, by erasing the voice of the original and replacing it with my own, by substituting what I understand in the passage for what the authors, perhaps, are trying to confess they don't quite understand, by replacing their trembling faith with my cock-sure commonsense, if you will, I have also removed any trace of the obscurity, the terror, the anxiety, the personality of the original. Unlike the passage from Sorrentino's essay on Williams that pleases Jonathan with its "force and clarity", my rewrite of Dauber and Jost lacks the power to stir the passions. Its clarity is the enemy of enthusiasm, as Burke put it.

But here's what I want to show you. The bulk of a prose paragraph should support one main point. To borrow from the world of stage performance, most of the paragraph is a "set up" for an effect. The effect doesn't have to come at the end; sometimes you want the effect to "ring out" a bit, like a cymbal, as the reader reads on through another couple of sentences. Now, what if our aim is precisely to stir up the (not always unconstructive) passion of "doubt", even "angst". What if we want to make the reader (and writing instructor in this case) tremble a little. Well, we'll need to evoke the sublime, and this means, Burke says, that we'll need to obscure something. We need to manage some darkness.

Consider another version of the passage we've been talking about:

Students sometimes fail to say what they mean or mean what they say because they don't pay enough attention to how they say it. This happens to the best of us, of course. Too often we find ourselves saying something that we think will quickly satisfy the critical theorist rather than something that might patiently communicate what we think. For how do you teach that words matter except by a labor too intensive for your doubts about literary labors to bear? Too many examples of words that don't seem to mean enough may undermine our faith in the capacity of words to mean something altogether. Students need exactly this faith in language to work their skepticism through.

Do you see what I did there? It remains true, as Jonathan points out, that "it is hard to picture a doubt bearing the burden of a labor" but this difficulty of "seeing", of forming an image, now becomes a definite effect. We have now recovered the "angst-ridden" voice of the original by placing it in the context of some more, shall we say, "prosaic" writing that lets it "sound" or resonate. Instead feeling merely uncomfortable about what Harold Bloom calls the "scene of instruction" we can feel a focused shot of anxiety.

With the humble hope that that last sentence is not itself too "terrible", thus endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Good and Bad Examples

Without looking at the two posts (1, 2) he quotes them in, can you tell which of these passages Jonathan has celebrated for its "expert prose", and which of them he has called "self-defeating"? Which passage exhibits "force and clarity"? Which passage "ties itself into unnecessary knots"?

1. "The Knife of the Times" fulfills the requirements that Williams set for himself. More importantly, it proved to him that it was possible to write in a debased language without satiric or parodic intent, to write, that is to say, in a language that seemed to have no possibilities for literature. This empty and pathetic story of two human beings caught in a language unfit to assist or relieve them, and unaware of it, is, in a sense, made of the Speech of Polish mothers become Americans. It was, for Williams, an act of absolute creative recovery.

2. Perhaps we ought to say, "You do not say what you mean or mean what you say, for you have not attended to the saying of it." Except that, too often lacking conviction ourselves in the efficacy of attention to words, we hear instead, over our own shoulders, voices remonstrating at us from the marketplace of critical theory, and we grow impatient. For how do you teach that words matter except by a labor too intensive for your doubts about literary labors to bear? How do you demonstrate such mattering except by giving examples, by patiently showing it to yourself and to students so caught up in the skepticism you have taught them that they have lost the faith necessary for working their skepticism through?

This is the first post I've written that has a "read more" part (I had to learn how to put a fold into my post to do it).


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Writing Letters, Living Right

The New Yorker just published a selection of Saul Bellow's correspondence. It contains a letter Bellow wote to Philip Roth in 1957. (For context: that means Roth is 24 years old and still unknown, while Bellow is twenty years older and has an established reputation as a writer.) Apparently Roth had sent Bellow the manuscript of a story called "Expect the Vandals", and the body of the letter contains a sympathetic critique of that story. What struck me was the framing of the letter, which refers to what was apparently a substantial delay:

Manuscripts around here shift and wander in huge piles, like the dunes. Yours turned up today, and I apologize to you for my disorder. It hurts me more.

[...]

Look, try Henry Volkening at 522 Fifth Ave. My Agent. A very good one, too. Best of luck. And forgive my having the mss. so long. I should have read it at once. But I don't live right. (Saul Bellow, “Among Writers,” The New Yorker, April 26, 2010, p. 56)

Correspondence can be an important part of your life as a writer, perhaps even more so in the case of academic writing. Good writing often circulates informally within a network of close peers and benefits from the reactions of these readers both in the letter and in the spirit (Bellow to Berryman: "When it's you who tells me something I rely utterly on it, and what you tell me does me infinite amounts of good.") Being a poor correspondent is, as Bellow says, a sign that you "don't live right".

Now, this is of course the point at which I confess that I, too, am a poor correspondent. For the most part, I react in a timely manner to the texts I edit as a part of my job. But I find it more difficult to set aside time to read things that interest me personally and to write a letter that the writers of those texts will find useful (both critical and encouraging). That takes time.

But it has to be done, not just for the sake of the writers who send me their stuff. Writing letters to other writers is a great way of thinking about your style and working on it in an informal way. (We talk about our ideas differently in letters than in print; hearing what you have to say in those situations can be very useful to you.) While "it hurts me more" might seem a bit disingenuous, there is some truth to it. You don't want your place filled up with a pile of manuscripts that wander around "like dunes". You want to get to things that matter to you often and repeatedly. It's all part of living well.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

256 Claims

How many things do you need to know to write your PhD dissertation? Well, it varies from field to field and program to program, but here's one way to estimate it. How many prose paragraphs are there in a dissertation? Each paragraph will consist of one key sentence and about six sentences that elaborate or support it. A paragraph claims that you know something (expressed in the key sentence) and tells the reader how you know it (in the remaining five or six sentences). That is, each paragraph presents (exactly) one thing you know.

So how many paragraphs? With one or two paragraphs to the page, 250 paragraphs seems like a good ball-park figure to begin with. In one sense, then, your dissertation is a presentation of 250 things you know. All of us know much more than that, of course, and you will know literally countless things in your area of specialization before you are finished. You won't claim to know each of them specifically in your dissertation. Your dissertation will be a selection of 250 things you know well.

Not only are these things merely the tip of your mental iceberg, you will be able to present only the tip of your knowledge of each of them. That is, after three years of study, you will be able to offer much more than six sentences of support for each of the claims you will make in your dissertation. Your challenge as a writer is to select, from among these (again, countless) sentences you could write, the sentences you must write to convince your reader.

The 250 knowledge claims that make up your dissertation are not about isolated facts, of course. They form a system. That means that they can be grouped and ordered into hierarchies. Every tenth claim, more or less, is a summary of claims at a lower level of aggregation. 225 claims at the ground level. 25 claims the next level up. Probably five claims at the next level. And then one claim that summarizes your whole dissertation. 256 altogether.

Now, here's something interesting. Imagine your dissertation as the defense of 256 claims, organized roughly as I just suggested. What would those claims be? Some will be about what you did (method). Some will be about what you and your field knows in a general way (theory). Some will be about your object as such (results and analysis). Some will about the implications of your work for practice, whether social, political, or managerial (recommendations). And some will about you and your dissertation itself (introduction, conclusion, preface). Like I say, about 31 of them will merely summarize and generalize the claims of the other 225.

Now, imagine spending exactly one hour trying to write each of those 225 substantial claims at the lowest level of generalization. Spend half an hour on the 25 + 5 summaries. Leave that 1 overarching claim, which is your "thesis" proper, out of the plan for now. Do the math. 240 hours. Give yourself 5 three-hour sessions per week (writing from, say, 9-12, Monday to Friday). That's 15 hours per week. 240 divided by 15 is 16. It will take you 16 weeks to write those 255 paragraphs. All you need is to stick to a schedule and have that list of 255 claims that, taken together, are your bid to become a philosophiƦ doctor.

What I just got through saying will seem absurd to some. But there is an easy way to show that it is not at all absurd. After about three years of studies, many PhD students successfully hand in a dissertation. Now, give me an experimental grant (grant me an experiment). Take some of those students and give them two weeks of luxury on an island of their choice. Bring them home and give them a week to reread their dissertation. Now, give them 16 weeks to rewrite it as a defense of 255 claims to know something. Reward them with a return to that island for a month. That's 21 weeks (less than half a year) added to the program. It's luxurious, yes, but not absurdly so.

The lesson of this thought experiment is that, once you know what you want to say, you won't have any trouble writing your thesis. At bottom, you only have to say about 250 things. And you only have to claim to know those things.