Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas

It's the end of the working year for me now. I'll be posting only impulsively until late January, and then steadily again for eight weeks up to Easter. My view is that there should be four 8-week periods every year, before and after the mid-semester break (if you have such a thing). Each of those periods should provide you with between 20-120 hours of writing time (between 30 minutes and 3 hours every day for 40 days). From Christmas to late January, then, and from June to mid-August (roughly) you are free to write in a less disciplined, more exploratory, more romantic way. You can do so confident that there will be sixteen weeks of reliable writing to come.

The key here is precisely that reliability. You're trying to train an ability to write exactly the amount of prose you plan to write. You want to know exactly how many ideas you will have time to write, and how many times you'll be able to re-write them. There are about 40 ideas in a paper, 40 "things you know".

Some of you may be thinking about your New Year's resolutions. I guess you could resolve to try this approach, or to try harder, or to try it again. But why resolve when you can plan? Just make a plan for those eight weeks up to Easter. Decide how many hours you'll put into it. Multiply it by two. That's how many paragraphs you'll write, or rewrite, or otherwise work on, 27 minutes at a time. Then write exactly that many paragraphs about things you know. (Again: it does not matter whether you resolve to write 40 paragraphs twice or 80 paragraphs once or any other division. Just as long as you have a plan.) Don't resolve to "get more writing done in 2013". That's too vague. Pick 40 or 60 or 80 truths you know and resolve to write them down.

Be as specific as you can, but please don't over-interpret the challenge. If you know you have 60 hours available to you, but don't know exactly what 120 things you might write, or what 60 truths you might write twice, just resolve to come up with some throughout the eights weeks. Try to develop some realistic expectations about how many ideas you'll have in that period. It'll be useful to have ten or twenty truths ready before the eight weeks begin, of course. That way you can work for half an hour every day for the first two weeks knowing you've got something to say. Spend some time every day making that list of truths of longer. That'll get you through.

I hope you'll all have a wonderful holiday season, whatever holiday you like to celebrate.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Logic

The "implications" or "discussion" section of your paper should not ad-duce new evidence but merely de-duce the consequences of your research, whether for theory or for practice. In so far as it describes facts, these should be wholly uncontroversial, either because they are familiar to the reader or because you present them only as "plausible". Your argument should not depend on the truth of these claims. You are engaging only with your reader's logical faculty here, your reader's logical sense.

The rest of the paper draws support from outside of itself (even if you insist it can never point "outside the text"). It says something about what people do in the world, or what they say, or what they believe, or the texts they write. But the facts that are stated in the implications or, often, the acts it prescribes, are not grounded outside the paper, they follow logically from the facts already presented in it. That is, to grant the truth of the bulk of the paper we have to believe that you know something about the world beyond its pages. But to grant you your implications we only have to follow your reasoning from what you've already convinced us is true.

There are two major kinds of implications, each of which follow from the disappointment of the results section (the disappointment implicit in the results section, if you will): the reader (and you) may be disappointed in the theory or in the practice. Either the theory will have have to change or the practice will have to change. If we grant you your conclusions, we will have to do something.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trust

It is precisely because you intend to disappoint your readers that you must win their trust. You do this in the methods section. Basically, a methods section tells the reader what you did to arrive at your result—especially how you gathered your data—in terms that strengthen your credibility. You must appear to be someone who understands the difficulty of knowing the particular truths you are going to claim to know. And of course someone who has done what it takes to overcome that difficulty.

At this point, I always invoke the preface to Goffman's Asylums. It won't satisfy all methodologist, of course, but it is admirable in the economy with which it assures the reader that the essays in that book provide a trustworthy picture of life in a "total institution". After reading it, one feels that the author is qualified to hold an opinion on these things, at least as such things went in 1961. He explains what kind of access he had to the institution, how long he studied it, and what sorts of prejudices might have misled him. That last factor, an awareness of the sources of error in his analysis, is very important to building trust. It's not that we expect a work to be free of bias. We simply want to know about as many sources of bias as possible. We will then read the analysis critically, with our own knowledge (and its unavoidable bias) in mind.

Tell the reader how closely you've examined the phenomenon your paper is about. How many weeks, days, hours did you spend in contact with it? How many people did you speak to or survey? What sorts of questions did you ask? What documents did you examine? What doors were closed to you? What doors were eagerly opened? The more specific you are, the more likely your reader is to trust you. (I will assume you are going to be telling the truth.) Keep the reader's natural skepticism in mind. If you interviewed only a handful of people, tell the reader why, and explain that you interviewed them very thoroughly. If they were all men, or all women, or all bosses, or all employees, explain that choice and show that you know this limits the sort of conclusions you can draw.

Anyone who has studied something carefully has the credibility they need to speak about it. The main thing is to know exactly what you have qualified yourself to say. Explain those qualifications to the reader, and then maintain their trust throughout the analysis by not making claims that demand greater credibility than you've established.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Expectations

The theory section should activate your reader's expectations of the object of your research. It should not create those expectations out of nothing, but derive them from the theory you presume already guides the reader's thinking in the area. It should consist of reminders, we might say. Your reader should already expect these things as soon as you explain (in the background section) what sort of thing you are studying (what sort of organization, or process, or social practice).

So, for example, you might be a Foucauldian, and thus writing for others who are familiar with Foucault's ideas about "governmentality". So, by the time you've described the broader background of the policy reform in the public institution you're interested in (a school, a hospital, a prison, or an airport) you know your reader is thinking about how this reform is constituting a new subject of governance through the "conduct of conduct". (I'm simplifying somewhat, of course.) Now comes your theory section. Here you make explicit what you take from Foucault's work and its reception in your area of study. You remind the reader of the expectations the reader has already felt implicitly tingling somewhere in their mind.

These expectations are not about what the analysis will show. In part, this is because you've already told the reader that your analysis will show something slightly different, slightly surprising, i.e., interesting; and in part it is because the reader is expecting to have hisserher expectations challenged by every published paper. They are the actual expectations the reader had before having thought very much about it. Your paper presents itself as an opportunity for such thought.

Now, the purpose of a journal article is to artfully disappoint the reader's expectations of the object of study. Those expectations were articulated ("set up", if you will) in the theory section. The point, remember, is not to disappoint your reader's expectations of the author or the paper, but of the object that the paper describes. This can lead (or even force) the reader either to revise the theory (which was disappointingly wrong about practice) or suggest reforms in the practice being studied (which was disappointingly inept in the light of the theory).

I'll say a bit more about these two possibilities in relation to the implications section on Thursday. For now, keep in mind that the disappointment is supposed to be literal and objective, not literary and subjective. The reader will not feel disappointed by your writing. Rather, the reader has high hopes for the theory or the practice, or both, and these hopes are to be somewhat dashed. But this is precisely what the reader is hoping for, because that it was it means to learn something new.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to Imagine the Reader

When sitting down to write, you should always have a well-defined claim clearly in mind. It should be expressed in a simple, declarative sentence—your "key sentence", which represents, in a general way, the fact that the paragraph is about. In a sense, it will name this fact and the rest of the paragraph will describe it. But writing a paragraph does not require you only to solve the problem of representation. There is also a rhetorical problem to consider. And to solve this problem it is not enough to know the fact; you have to know your reader.

Moreover, you have to decide how you want the paragraph to affect your reader's mind. This decision will be different from paragraph to paragraph, but at a slightly more general level, we can think about how to address your reader in the major divisions of what I normally call the "standard social science paper". Such a paper will have an introduction, and then a background, theory, methods, results and implications section, finally a conclusion.

The introduction and conclusion describe the same thing, they represent the same fact, namely, your paper. But they will obviously address the reader in different ways; they presume the reader is in very different states of mind. After all, the reader of the introduction has not yet read your paper, and the reader of the conclusion has just read the whole thing. The introduction and conclusion tell the reader what the paper says. But the reader of the introduction does not yet know what the paper says and reader of the conclusion has just heard it all. Keep that in mind when writing those sections.

What about the other sections? Well, you know your reader better than I do, but I do have some suggestions for how to go about it. I'll devote my posts in this final week before Christmas to how your image of your reader can guide your writing, section for section.

The background section should be addressed to the reader's ignorance. This is one of the places in a paper that you can presume your reader does not know what you know. You are writing this in the spirit of informing the reader about the context in which the social practice you are studying goes on. But while you may presume it, remember not also to assume that your reader is ignorant. Many of your readers may know everything you are saying here and will therefore also know when you are wrong. Those readers, however, will not (and should not) feel like you are addressing them.

Tomorrow, there'll be a post about how to imagine what the reader does with the theory and results sections. Both engage directly with the reader's expectations. Then, on Wednesday I'll write about how the methods section should inspire trust in the reader, i.e, build your credibility as a scholar. On Thursday, I'll say something about the implications section, which is addressed to the reader's logical sense, their reason.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Metaphysics of Sitting

"Patience, consistency, and perseverance are important in establishing and settling into your practice." (ZCLA)

"I came home every night at twenty to eleven, regular as Kant." (Leonard Cohen)

Just as I am sometimes struck by the similarity between what I do and what motivational speakers like Tony Robbins do, I am often struck by the zen-like "wisdom" of my suggestions. I mean that in a self-deprecating way, I should say; without denying its wisdom, one has to admit that zen practice is a very simple thing. It is sometimes difficult to justify the role of a teacher or coach in its development. And yet, it is also the practice that is most iconically associated with "gurus".

The other day I noticed the very specific likeness of my writing proposal to what is called "zazen" meditation, which is often associated with a pursuit of "mindfulness" these days. There are two very superficial similarities. First, it is a program of daily meditation. Second, the recommended session lasts about 30 minutes. But the practice of "sitting" also aligns with my writing advice at a deeper level.

Lynn Kelly makes a suggestion that looks very much like mine: choose a time, choose a place, and choose a duration. And remember: "You have everything you need right now." This is exactly what I say about scholarly writing. Just decide to sit down every day, somewhere suitable, and write what you know. You already have the ideas in your head. Just write some of them down at a particular time in a particular place every day.

"At first, you may be surprised at how active and uncontrolled your mind is," Kelly tells us. "Don’t worry – you are discovering the truth about your current state of mind." One must repeatedly bring one's attention back to the chosen "object of meditation", like one's breathing. When writing according to my method, you are going to be making a similar effort to focus on your key sentence, to find in your mind those further ideas that support exactly the claim you are making in this particular paragraph. And here too you may find, in the beginning, that your mind is surprisingly, even distressingly, active, at times also outright confused. Don't worry, I also say, you are discovering an important truth, even if that truth is about the limits of your knowledge. "Accept and 'sit with' whatever comes up," Kelly says. When writing, I will add, this might simply mean sitting there in your ignorance struggling with your words. Over time, given discipline, your "monkey mind" will settle down and produce stable, coherent prose for you about things you know.

With admirable simplicity, the Zen Center of Los Angeles' instructions for beginners is called "How to Sit". It wisely urges patience:

Be patient with yourself, as it may take some time before you can reliably focus your attention for an extended period of time. At first, you may only sit a few times a week, for a few minutes. At your own pace, gradually increase the frequency and duration of your sitting until you can sit daily for 30 to 35 minutes at a time. Don’t rush this process, but allow your mind and body to gradually adjust to the practice. Some people prefer to sit in the morning, others at night, and some do both. Experiment to find which of these works best for you, then make it your own regular practice. When practicing, it is useful to sit in the same place and at the same time of day, if possible.

Again this is exactly what I say about writing. Get yourself gradually into shape to "reliably focus your attention" on the composition of a single paragraph. I urge people to aim for 27-minute sessions (with three-minute breaks), with more advanced writers sometimes writing one in 18 or even 13 minutes (with two-minute breaks).

But I also emphasize that this is your writing practice. Find a practice that works for you. The important thing is to sit down every day and write. Like Zen, however, you can benefit from the experience of a teacher. And that's where I come in, I guess.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Homage to Jonathan Mayhew

If you like this blog you should thank Jonathan Mayhew. You might say that for several years now this blog has an ongoing attempt impress him. He's not the "implicit reader" of the posts—you are—but what we might call the "implicit editor". As I write, I'm always trying to get my ideas by him.

I'm not saying this just to kiss ass. I'm trying to set a good example. As writers we should always have our readers in mind. But we should also imagine some ideal editor whose judgement is much harsher (and much more precise) than our actual readers. There's stuff you can get away with with your general readership that you can't get away with with Mayhew. (I still cringe when I think of my attempts to say something intelligent about the passive voice.)

I don't have Jonathan in mind when I'm writing a scholarly article, I should say. I wouldn't expect to impress him with my attempts to speak in the voice of organization studies, which I imagine he probably finds quite strained. Truth be told, I haven't thought seriously enough about whose judgement I respect in the same way in that field. And this goes a long way towards explaining my marginal status there. Things are getting a little better, however. (I have recently found a couple of possible role models.)

A writer does well to find someone who personifies the standard they are aspiring to. This blog is written for people who want to raise their standards. And the standard to which it is written is, roughly speaking, my image of Jonathan Mayhew as a scholar.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Change of Routine

Maybe you've noticed a change in the tone of the posts recently? Ever since that sleepless night a couple of weeks ago, I've decided not to blog "live" as I have been for years now. It occurred to me that developing an idea for immediate publication, while good discipline, was simply too intellectually demanding. Especially for a blog post. Ever since, I've been dashing off my blog posts whenever I feel like it, free-writing them, if you will, and saving them as drafts. A few days later I go back to them edit them for publication. Then I schedule them to post at 7:00AM on some available day in the future. (I'm about four posts ahead as I write this.)

I don't recommend writing scholarly prose in this spontaneous way. All my advice about knowing what you are going to say the day before you are going to say it still holds. In fact, I'm using that half hour in the mornings now to write a scholarly article. This is something I really should have done a long time ago. My authorial "persona" has become too blogging-oriented. Highly disciplined, yes, but not capable of writing a series of coherent paragraphs that develops an idea for a knowledgeable, intelligent reader within a particular discipline. I've been writing for highly intelligent, knowledgeable readers, to be sure, but not about the things they are actually thinking about. This has weakened an important side of my prose.

My plan for next year is to rediscover the scholar that I got cold feet about becoming about a year and half ago. (Has it been that long?) It may be too late, of course. But let's see. Let's see.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I Don't Teach



Frankly, I don't understand why a student wouldn't go humbly to Branford Marsalis for instruction in the craft. (That is, I don't understand why exactly his students would leave this impression.) But I must say I share his experience. I don't teach because I don't have the courage to tell students they are full of shit. More accurately (since it's not really that I'm afraid of them), I don't have the heart. Their vanity appeals to my sense of pity. In fact, my empathy undermines me.

After all, it takes one to know one. I have let the kinds of students Marsalis is talking about undermine my desire to teach because I, too, was one of those students. I did not believe that a university was a place where I might learn something, but saw it instead as a place where my talents were to be acknowledged. If this did not happen, that was a poor reflection on the institution, not on me. My error is becoming clear to me now as I again and again discover that I simply am unable to do the things I would like to be able to do intellectually. I did not work hard enough as a student.

Wittgenstein is the patron saint of this kind of incompetence. When he said that philosophy should be written as a kind of "poetic composition" (Dichtung), he added that this only revealed the extent to which he was trying to do something he was unable to do. He knew what philosophy ought to be, but he did not work hard enough to perfect his craft. And the reason, I think, is that he never really felt he had to accomplish anything. He had Bertrand Russell to tell him how right he was and how good he was and how talented he was; and besides: he did not want the prestige of an academic post. So he had nothing to live up to.

Now, Wittgenstein was also in fact good, right, and talented. (As you and I are, dear reader.) But I don't think he ever really experienced himself in that way. He said that "genius is talent exercised with courage", but I'm not sure he thought of himself as very courageous (nor am I even sure that he was). His Investigations were published only after his death. He shared his views mostly with admirers.

In scholarship, the essential thing is learning how to assert a fact in public. It's really difficult. Don't think you're being sophisticated when you find a way around the problem of assertion. You're just being lazy, and probably vain. And, the university being what it is, you will probably be rewarded for it. I, in turn, will be able to teach when I finally realize that my hard-won empathy with sophomoric bullshit actually offers a valid basis for instruction.

Maybe I just realized that now. Welcome to my epiphany!

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Want to Teach? Sensemaking!?!?

This surprises me too. I thought I'd given it up. Lately, however, I've been longing to return to teaching. For the past year I've been spending most of my time coaching scholars to become better writers. My contact with university students has been in the form special appearances to talk in general terms about "how to write". Writing will of course be an important component of any class I might teach, but there appears to be a part of me that also wants to actually impart knowledge to others. I want to teach something I know, not just show people how to do something.

This raises the vexing question: what do I actually know something about? I've got a certain facility with the form of scholarship, but what have I got to offer in the way of content? It's important to keep in mind that I don't just want to teach things I think I know something about, like philosophy and poetry, which I blog confidently about as an amateur at the Pangrammaticon, but which I've never made a serious scholarly contribution to. I want to teach a class I'm qualified to teach. There are two options:

1. The philosophy of science, sociology of knowledge, or science and technology studies. I got my training in these fields but never got around to doing much original research in them. I once taught what I thought was a brilliant course centered on Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge. I tried to teach the students how to actually account for a research area (their own), first, as a "paradigm" (or "disciplinary matrix") and, second, as a "discourse" (or "discursive formation"). This meant mastering the four "elements" of each "doctrine": symbolic generalizations, metaphysical models, exemplars and values for Kuhn, and objects, concepts, enunciative modalities and strategies for Foucault. Turning these epistemological categories into descriptive tasks was, as I recall, invigorating work.

2. Organizational sensemaking. Though I may perhaps come off as a scourge in this area, I really do believe that the sensemaking process is a crucial part of organization studies. I think I could do a good job of teaching Weick's ideas even though I'm very critical of his scholarly practices. Indeed, I'm critical of the scholarly standards of the entire field. Teaching students might be a way of raising those standards. I think it would be interesting, for example, to do a course centered on the Mann Gulch disaster. While I think Weick got it wrong, I'm sure his material (Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire) is worthy of study. What sensemaking processes does it reveal? It would be fun to work through the case in with students. What I would really enjoy, I think, is having the time to talk about the nitty-gritty details of what happened alongside the finer points of sensemaking theory, as well as considering alternative theories (e.g., Heidegger, Goffman, Schutz).

Like I say, I'm a bit surprised to feel this desire. Fortunately, I've got some time to think about it. I don't think I'll be in a position to do any teaching until at least after the summer.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Inquiry and the Conservation of Knowledge

It seems to me that the purpose of university research has been lost, or at least greatly obscured, over the past fifty or sixty years. It is commonplace today to talk about "knowledge production" and the university as a site of innovation. But the institution was never designed to "produce" something nor even to be especially innovative. Its function was to conserve what we know. It just happens to be in the nature of knowledge that it cannot be conserved if it does not grow. Those who know need to continuously satisfy their curiosity if what they know is to remain valid and retain its vitality.

But the university itself was not there, primarily, to make new discoveries or, as is increasingly assumed today, to invent new technologies. This should be left to independent inventors, free spirits working outside the formal institutions of knowledge. (The sort of inventions universities can foster are not, finally, very interesting.) The universities were there to pass what we already know on to those who are capable of knowing it but do not yet know it. Then, after they graduate, let them invent. And those who have shown an aptitude for retaining what they have learned and absorbing the novelties produced outside the universities into their thinking in durable ways, let them take their positions as teachers and scholars.

It is the curious mind that learns. And that's why teachers need to be given conditions under which they satisfy their own curiosity. What seems to have happened this last half century is that innovation has been valorized at the expense of curiosity. In fact, an argument can be made that curiosity has been demonized. It's so damned "subversive", after all! A healthy society, however, must continually run the risk of having some of its institutions subverted by inquiring minds. Like subversion, innovation should not be seen as goal of scholarship but as a byproduct of letting a mind develop to its full potential.

To make that development possible, however, we need the university to present itself, on the whole and in the long run, as a conservatory of the collective experience of the culture. It must demand that students learn what we already know. But it must empathize with the curiosity that is the most teachable part of a student's mind. I fear that our teachers are losing that empathy. I worry that curiosity is being thought of as, well, somewhat quaint, something to be replaced with the sterner, more profitable stuff of "innovation".

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Homage to Uri Simonsohn

(Hat tip: Andrew Gelman.) Uri Simonsohn's work is an impressively successful example of what I'm also trying to do. Christopher Shea's article provides a good account of his work and motivations. I was especially struck by this:

[What] is driving Simonsohn? His fraud-busting has an almost existential flavor. “I couldn’t tolerate knowing something was fake and not doing something about it,” he told me. “Everything loses meaning. What’s the point of writing a paper, fighting very hard to get it published, going to conferences?”

Simonsohn stressed that there’s a world of difference between data techniques that generate false positives, and fraud, but he said some academic psychologists have, until recently, been dangerously indifferent to both. Outright fraud is probably rare. Data manipulation is undoubtedly more common—and surely extends to other subjects dependent on statistical study, including biomedicine. Worse, sloppy statistics are “like steroids in baseball”: Throughout the affected fields, researchers who are too intellectually honest to use these tricks will publish less, and may perish. Meanwhile, the less fastidious flourish.

I think this is exactly right. If we do not—and especially if we cannot—expose fraud and correct error when we discover it then "everything loses meaning". Moreover, if those who concoct "positive" results have better odds of success in academia than those who spot mistakes (and therefore also avoid them in their own research) then the academy truly is in peril.

There's also a good interview with Simonsohn here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Corrective Criticism

The important thing is that mistakes be discovered and corrected. Andrew Gelman quotes the strong language of Tilburg University's report (PDF) on the Stapel case: "The scientific literature must be cleansed of everything that is fraudulent, especially if it involves the work of a leading academic." But fraud is merely one way of introducing error into the literature. As Ryan Shaw points out in the comments, the right approach isn't to "cleanse" the literature of the effects of fraud, but to publicize the fraud so that future readers will be as well-informed as possible.

This is why I always argue that the work of discovering mistakes in other people's work—the work of straightforward criticism—must be encouraged by publishing it on par with the more familiar "original" research. In principle, a scholar should be able to build a whole career on identifying errors in reasoning and interpretation, as well as plagiarism and fabrication, and making these public. (In practice, of course, most scholars will not feel satisfied with merely "weeding the garden".) As always in scholarship, arguments and evidence must be provided, and critiques themselves may ultimately turn out to be wrong, but there must be room in the literature for work that does not make a "contribution" in the usual "positive" way.

This isn't about "cleansing" so much as cleaning or tidying up. Throwing things out that have outlived their usefulness. Disposing of dangerous chemicals and rotten fruit (picked but not eaten). Such cleanup operations are necessary in the wake of a scandal, of course, and might intensify under such circumstances. But they should be getting done on a regular basis too. As a matter of course. Ideas should not leave the literature only by being forgotten. Sometimes they should be explicitly rejected.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Knowledge and Epistemology

It is one thing to know something and another to know what knowledge is. Some make do with one and not the other. Some know a great deal about their area of expertise but don't have a well-developed epistemology. Others have an over-developed epistemology that tells them that they don't, finally, know anything at all. (This was arguably the Socratic position, but I think he said it with no little irony.) I think the healthiest approach is to have an epistemology that grants you a practical basis for knowing things, and then proceed to know a great many things on precisely that basis. Your epistemology should demand that you do some work, but it should not demand an unreasonable amount of labor or outright drudgery.

Let's say that epistemology tells you what it is possible to know. It guides you away from projects that seek impossible knowledge. Somewhere between the too-easily possible and the impossibly difficult lie our subjects of careful study. An epistemology should also, therefore, give you some indication of when to give up the search, at least for now. That is, after putting in the amount of effort your epistemology demands, you should either be in the possession of a "justified, true belief" or looking elsewhere for truth. Of course, you may return to try again for "the one that got away", but you should at some point call it a day, pack it in, get some rest, and take up a new topic.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Style & Image, Some Exercises

For those who want to work consciously on their style, here are three simple exercises worth trying. I recommend doing them one paragraph at a time, either alone or with a partner (with a partner is best). They are inspired in part by Borges's reminder, in "A Note on (toward) Bernard Shaw", that "a book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialog it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory." What here goes for the book goes also for journal article and for the paragraphs out of which it is made. You are not just building a verbal structure. You are engaging with the reader's imagination. A good style emerges from taking this engagement, this "meeting of minds", seriously.

The first exercise is literally about the "voice" you write with. Any text has what rhetoricians call an "immanent orality", i.e., a natural way of reading it out loud, of performing it. The strong version of this hermeneutic implies that interpreting a text is just a matter of imagining its oral performance. Giving meaning to the words ultimately tells us how to read it out loud. In order to do that exactly right, of course, we have to know what all the words mean. A well-written paragraph is easy to understand and therefore easy to read out loud.

Read your paragraph out loud, carefully and intentionally. Be aware of how the text seems to "want" to be read out loud. If something seems wrong, fix it in the text. If you are working with a partner, give it to them to read. (Don't let them listen to you first.) Now, see if they read it the same way you did, the same way you imagined it should be read.

The second exercise is about those "changing and durable images" or, to return to Wittgenstein's remark from last week, the pictures we make of the facts. Since most paragraphs will state a fact (because they make a claim, i.e., they assert something to be the case), we can ask: What does the picture of that fact look like?

Draw the picture of that fact. Sometimes you will simply sketch a scene, or a series of comic book frames. You might draw an organizational chart or a process diagram. Or you might need to do something more abstract. But decide on a reasonably limited set of expressive resources. (Work in black and white. Stick figures. Etc.) Now, get your partner to draw a picture of the fact based only on their reading of your paragraph. Comparing the results will give you a sense of whether your writing is making the right visual impression on the mind of the reader.

The third exercise is similar to the second but assumes that sometimes a paragraph will not so much assert a fact as enjoin an act.

Imagine the action or set of actions, individual or collective, physical or social, that your paragraph proposes. These may be presented as a "to do list" or as a diagram or picture of what is to be done (like Ikea instructions). Here again, compare your image of the relevant action with the image your paragraph conjures up in the mind of your partner.

Readers differ. Some have very visual imaginations, others more acoustic ones. But a text that does not give the imagination anything very definite to work with is not likely to be understood. It may be a verbally imposing structure. But it will not have real style.