Tuesday, March 24, 2009

General Topic: Professional Language

10-second review: I don’t like jargon. So when I see a piece of pompous prose in one of my professional journals, I usually collect it as an example of obfuscation, the usual result of jargon. Here’s an example. Can you rewrite it to make it clear?

Title: “NCTE Journals and the Teacher-Author: Who and What Gets Published.” A Whitney, Coeditor. English Education (January 2009), 101-113. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Can you improve this sentence?

"I think this information can help us not only to know ourselves and our profession better but also, more importantly, to consider how we instantiate in our publications the priorities and problems of our field, how we invite teachers to make their work public, and how the different kinds of participants in language arts scholarship—classroom teacher, university researchers, and others—are variously situated within our literature." p. 102.

Comment: My first thought is, “No wonder teachers don’t read professional literature.” Who wants to read language like that? My second thought is, “Can I translate this pile of verbiage into plain English?” The context of the sentence is a worthwhile study of the grade levels of teachers who contribute to our professional journals.

Let me see if I can untangle this sentence:

"This information can help us know ourselves and our profession, gives examples of the important ideas and problems in our publications, encourages teachers to publish and reveals the contributors—classroom teachers, university researchers, and others—to our professional literature."

The original sentence was 67 words. I’ve reduced it by 28 words to 39. I have to confess that I’m guessing at the meaning of the words, “to consider how we instantiate in our publications the priorities and problems of our field.” Try as I might I was unable to understand what the author meant by that phrase.

I will continue to fight my puny little war against jargon in every pompous profession. Language does not have to be like that. Even PhD's can express ideas clearly and sometimes memorably. RayS.

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