Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Guess Academia Really is Just a Bunch of BS

Maybe I'm the only one who will find this amusing.

This morning, I received an email from the professor from my Library Management class announcing that our research papers from last week had been graded and we could all look at the feedback he'd left us.  The email (which was generic mass email to everyone) expressed some disappointment in how a majority just summarized the paper in our abstracts and that, on the whole, our papers really weren't structured well and we all need to revisit proper APA style, etc., etc.

Now, I really have a low opinion of academic writing.  I don't enjoy doing it, I'd rather just tell you what I know, maybe reference a few quotes from other people but largely ignoring stylistic convention.  I certainly tell you where I got my information, but not in a formalized "Put the comma in the right place in your citation or you DIE!!" style that so many academic fields insist upon using.  I suffered through MLA formatting in my undergrad, but that was a cakewalk compared to the nit-picky, overbearing crap I have to put up with in APA style.  This paper was made even worse by the fact that it was for my Management class, which I have no interest in whatsoever and I wouldn't even be taking this class if it wasn't required for graduation.  But you do what you have to do and try to make the best of it.

Let me be clear *holds up index finger to show I'm making a point* - I have zero intention of ever doing research or publishing any academic article after my graduate work is over.  My efforts in my library career will be focused doing the best job within whatever library I work in, helping kids and teenagers (and maybe a few adults) with whatever information needs they have.  Whether it's a kid looking for material for a school report or looking for the latest Star Wars tie-in novel, I'm there.  I'm not getting in this career to impress a bunch of stuffy academic types in tweed jackets and turtlenecks (now, if it's a guy with a tweed jacket and a bow-tie - I may have to reconsider.  But show me the blue box, first).

I had a point... oh yes - so, when I wrote my paper I was writing it just to get it out of the way.  At this point in my academic career, I've pretty much abandoned the formal, high-brow style of writing and have opted for a much more relaxed style reminiscent of the way I blog.  As an example, this was my abstract:

"My paper is on marketing.  I’m going to talk about how it’s important to do proper marketing and advertising so people will actually see what the library is doing and decide to come.  I will be addressing different techniques and tools used in marketing as described in several scholarly articles by librarians from around who have used these tools.  I chose this topic because it’s a management topic that requires thought about patrons and potential patrons rather than focusing on things that are away from primary library functions."

(This was actually better than my first version of my abstract which was this: "I chose to write my paper on marketing the library and different ways to do it. I chose it because all the other management topics were boring and I hate business-type buzzwords because it all sounds like a bunch of ass-kissing to me." It's really a shame I had to edit that out).

So when my professor mentioned in his email that he was disappointed in our abstracts, I figured I had lost some points for my cavalier attempt and I probably didn't get a very good score on it (so, I'm saying that things I tell my own students actually apply to me???  Really? /sarcasm).  Imagine my surprise when I read the feedback he left me (emphasis added):

"You discuss the importance of marketing strategies for libraries. I was pleased to see good evidence of your analytical skills in looking at previous work, as your arguments were clearly built upon the work of previous researchers and theorists. Your abstract got things off on the right foot, being precise and clear and very indicative of what you would be discussing in your paper. Your paper is structured in such a way that it progresses logically with relevant and recent citations. I really like your strong introductory and concluding sections, providing a great counterbalance at the beginning and end of your paper, allowing the reader to easily absorb the information. I very much enjoyed reading your paper—great work!"

The amazing thing?  I got the full 20 out of 20 points for it.

So... it's really okay to be that brutally honest in your abstract?  Evidently so.  But what amazes me even more is that I totally BS'd my way through this whole thing.  Sure, I found some good articles to cite, but I only cited each one once (more or less), just so I could get back to blathering on about what I wanted to say.  I figured that would have showed up (okay, maybe I wasn't that terrible, but read some academic journal articles - I don't understand how people manage to read through all that smarmy, stilted crap).

Maybe I ought to rethink my whole outlook on academic writing.  If snark and irreverence is actually looked upon kindly in academic circles...  (pfft... yeah right)

Eh - whatever.  It's full points - I'll take it!

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