February 24, 2014 | 2

The term “academic writing” is controversial, not least because it implies that academics have an odd and persnickety way of writing. In a blog post for The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman examines the genre, looking back on his time in grad school to argue that academic writing is a “fraught and mysterious thing.”

is a staff writer for The Millions. He lives in New York.


  1. Looking forward to reading this article to explore what seems a foreign land to me. I don’t have any personal experience with it, but from the stories I’ve heard about dissertations, to me it sounds nightmarish, especially the preliminary requirements of making sure you’ve read EVERYTHING ever written about your topic (e.g., Jane Austen’s elbow). I would fear a perpetual distraction that would lead me from Jane Austen’s elbow, to her lace sleeve, to a lace factory in Milan, to the current state of competition of Italian lace makers with China, to Chinese characters, thus to the art store to buy some new brushes and paint.

    Thus goes the life of those who float along like tumbleweeds. Our ilk is best suited to (short) poetry as we lack the stern focus and iron spine of the academics. :)

    Moe Murph
    First Job Out Of School Working In Harvard School of Architecture Mailroom With 10th-Year PhD. in Irish Medieval Studies

  2. Can’t resist. the 10th Year PhD in above message was a towering, broad woman with a shock of long, bright-read hair. She wore a purple cape, pinned with a Celtic medal pin that floated behind her as she strode the Yard to the architecture school.

    She was in pitched battles with the Medieval Studies Department (who wanted her out if her paper wasn’t in that year), with her Advisor, and with the Administrator for the architecture school, where she ran the mailroom. She was a great pitcher of battles.

    I don’t remember what she was writing about, could have been cloud patterns in Ulster or something, but I expected the difficulty may have been that Harvard, the department, and medieval Irish weather all refused to bend to her will. She told a great story about a professor who would stride into department events, sit down, and demand in a Falstaffian voice of the wait staff:

    “Brrrriiinnnggggggg Me My Brie!”

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