January 4, 2016—This is the season I enter my period of Lenten Literary Purgatory. Specifically, this is the time when doctoral dissertations start coming in requiring hours of reading academic writing by anxiously ambitious graduate students. Academia has its perks, but this isn’t one of them.
Currently I’m teaching two courses that require students to do a lot of writing. In one course students are producing curricular products, and in the other, students are engaged in a book project. I’m going to be doing a lot of editorial work this semester! I’ve stocked up on red markers and Maker’s Mark.
After years of reading doctoral dissertations and reviewing journal articles I’ve learned to pick up on academic jargon. Some jargon is shorthand related to the stilted style of academic writing, but some are code for a lack of due diligence in research and study on the part of students. Here are some of the most common instances of dissertation jargon and what is really between the lines:
“It has long been known.” (I didn’t look up the original reference.)
“A definite trend is evident.” (These data are practically meaningless.)
“While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to the questions…” (This whole project was a bust I still hope to get it published.)
“Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study” (The other results didn’t make any sense.)
“Typical results are shown below.” (This is a pretty graph.)
“These results will be in a subsequent report.” (I might get around to this sometime, if my committee pushes me, I get a book deal, or if I get funding.)
“In my experience.” (This happened to me once.)
“In case after case.” (It happened twice.)
“In a series of cases.” (It happened three times.)
“It is believed that…” (I think this should be true though I have no evidence.)
“It is generally believed that…” (A couple of other guys think so too.)
“Correct within an order of magnitude.” (The numbers don’t add up.)
“According to statistical analysis…” (Rumor has it.)
“A statistically oriented projection of the significance of these findings…” (I’m taking a wild guess here.)
“A careful analysis of obtainable data…” (I checked Wikapedia.)
“It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding of this phenomena occurs…” (I don’t understand it.)
“After additional study by my colleagues…” (They don’t understand it either.)
“Thanks are due to my spouse for (her/his) assistance and support with this project and to Alice Freeman for valuable insights.” (My spouse did the research and Ms. Freeman explained to me what it meant.)
“A highly significant area for exploratory study…” (A totally useless topic selected by my committee chairperson.)
“It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigation in this field.” (I’ve reached the required minimal page count so I quit writing.).
To avoid these literary pitfalls and home your writing skills, check out the writing workshops at the Center for Lifelong Learning. If you are a student at Columbia Theological Seminary, visit the Center for Academic Literacy at the Campbell Library.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.