“Should We Study Bad Writing?”


Should We Study Bad Writing?

Rachel Toor


Rachel Toor knows that when students suggest reading Twilight, it probably isn’t because they think it’s great writing, or because it relates to the class, but Toor wonders if perhaps reading bad writing has a purpose. Academic writing often has its problems, and both undergraduate students and graduate students can get down on themselves when they cannot understand a paper unaware that it is not the concepts that are the problem, but the prose. Students also recognize bad writing when they see it in others’ writing, or in fiction, but not in their own writing. Toor wonders if Twilight, or another book similar in, ahem, style, might provide students with a basis for what to look for in their own writing as well as a way to evaluate articles that they may read for classes and worry less about their comprehension of a topic when they recognize that the writing is poor.

As students are moving from high school to college, and working on their first research paper, they are coming into the library and looking for academic articles. These articles will often present prose that, while useful for their research papers, are incredibly difficult to read. The students will need to understand that the research is only the first part. As librarians, we can help teach students how to work around bad prose in academic articles by explaining example paragraphs, how to san for key phrases, and how to, as Toor says, skim for the souped up sex scenes (aka key phrases).

Do you think that bad writing has its place in the academic teaching/library world? How can we as librarians/instruction librarians help students better understand their assignments, their articles, and their own writing? Does Toor have a point about academic writing? Or should we continue to work the way we are, ignoring the problems in academic articles, and just assuming that if students can read Shades of Grey they can read an article?


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