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David Lee Rubin, Principal

Fox Hill Editorial Blog

I have not set out to develop a concerted position here, though I will no doubt close in (haltingly, incompletely, and inadvertently) on clusters of ideas that may mesh with (or even support) one another. To switch metaphor: the imaginary blocks that I write within share boundaries which may be more or less permeable, if not (as David Henige would have it) absolutely osmotic.

Gleanings from Current Books and Periodicals

Posted on February 23rd, 2011 by Site Administrator

The Journal of Scholarly Publishing 42.2 (January 2011)

Charles C. Fischer. “A Value-Added Role for Reviewers in Enhancing the Quality of Published Research” 226-37. Fischer clearly, completely, and succinctly portrays the ideal referee, to whose services every serious ms. is entitled, but seldom gets. An excellent yardstick by which to measure the value of reader reports received and a table of “best practice” for anyone who agrees to vet a manuscript for publication.

Stephen K. Donovan, “Ten Rules of Academic Writing” 262-267. No, mercifully, not Strunk and White, but a few basic procedures that a writing coach might recommend to foster steady, high-quality production despite onerous responsibilities, petty hindrances, and quasi-chronic fatigue.

First Thoughts on ACADEMICALLY ADRIFT

Posted on February 23rd, 2011 by Site Administrator

American colleges and universities often under-perform their best foreign counterparts because — outside mathematics, the sciences (especially the “hard” sciences), and philosophy — programs, departments, and courses give little (if any) priority to methodical close reading, especially of intellectual texts.

Faculty allow students to “respond to” this category of writing, rather than require them to analyze arguments, appraise them systematically in the light of appropriate, justified criteria, then counter, extend, or silk-purse them with original reasoning.

(By reasoning I mean a sequence of motivated, appropriately qualified, grounded, and warranted claims that also accord skepticism and outright dissent their due. This not only in rigorously graded papers, but also class discussion.)

Some (like Gerald Graff) have argued that this equipment is routinely assumed by professors, who (for reasons of time or fear of belaboring the obvious or getting off-topic) do not impart it as they teach (either in general terms or even in a narrow, discipline-specific way). Nor, do they tell their clientele how to obtain these missing tools. Perhaps.

To judge by conference papers, articles, and books — especially those submitted for consideration to section organizers, journal editors or acquisitions staff — another explanation is even more compelling, namely: that many faculty members are themselves deficient in what London taxi drivers call “the knowledge” — strategies for reaching point B from point A without getting lost, stalled in a traffic jam, or crashing.

A significant percentage of academic writers seem not to know how to frame a problem, posit its significance, explain what must be known to grasp the issue and its cognitive or pragmatic non-triviality, then move forward to a solution. And there is more. Many are morally certain that they assume and presume nothing. Their presumptive claims, moreover, are frequently absolute (or merely hedged) and are neither clear nor precise. Reasons are all too often developed (and supporting reports of evidence transformed into “fact”) by an array of almost universally unacknowledged (or acknowledged but unexamined) frameworks or contexts, whose compatibility with one another they seldom if ever question. Warrants, when they appear at all, fail to connect grounds to claim or, worse (if that is possible): they take on a life of their own, and become distracting, often obstructive digressions into a radically different kind of discourse: Theory. (Philosopher Douglas Walton would label these moves fallacious.) Finally, many academic writers avoid meaningful dialogue by not acknowledging or responding to critical questions, reservations, objections or alternatives to their positions. If they do, they are prone to convert doubt, dissent and dispute into red herrings or straw men which they refute, irrelevantly.

Next: probable causes and remedies.