Thursday, June 14, 2007

Errant Nonsense

One of the problems with the more general books and essays I'm looking through is the fact that they're, well, general. I'm surveying them because they were cited in someone else's notes, but I'm finding that many of these are written for an audience of nonspecialists. They survey the general terrain, but break little new ground. That's not to say that such books and essays are useless, but they are less than helpful for what I'm trying to accomplish right now. My goal is to get through them as quickly as possible (by the end of next week I should be done) so I can move on to my chapter-specific bibliography, secure in the knowledge that I've looked at what I know to be out there.

But what really got to me today was not the generalness of one of the essays, but rather the fact that it asserted something that I know to be untrue. I know this primarily because I've written (at least tangentially) on the topic, and have documents to back up my position, where the author of the essay in question has not even a footnote to back up her assertion. I can hardly fault the author for not having looked at the same documents I have, of course. But my broad sense of the secondary literature is that no author writing on this subject would agree with the essay author's position, which sounds more like the kind of cliché that one of my undergrads would come up with, rather than the product of someone well-read in a particular area.

As a result, despite the relatively minor role this incorrect assertion played in the overall piece, I mistrusted everything that particular author had to say from that point on. Considering that this errant nonsense came on page four of the essay in question, that one little unsupported assertion caused some serious damage to the credibility of the piece as a whole.

I've known for a long time that we learn to write by reading. Today, I learned that we also learn how not to write the same way.

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