Tag Archives: academic-writing

Textbooks Suck

One other thing, while we’re on the subject of quotations and sources.

Your textbooks suck. Seriously. Your music history textbook, your church music textbook, the forward to your string pedagogy book, they all suck. Please don’t copy and paste Chapter 4 from your Baroque Music History textbook into your thesis paper and call it “research”. That’s just lazy. And also, they’re wrong.

Well, Dr. Jimbo Says …

When you use a quote in an academic paper, all you’ve done is prove that some person said something.

If you’re using that quote to give background on a debate, or to highlight one perspective in a debate, then proving someone said something is sufficient. But, if you’re actually using the quote as evidence in your argument, then that’s not nearly enough. You have to prove that they’re actually right. That means presenting their justification for the point.

As Dr. Jim McJimerson writes in his thesis, “On Writing Papers and Such”,

When you use a quote in an academic paper, all you’ve done is prove that some person said something.

I think that proves my point.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Academic” as …

So, I’m grading 2,600 pages of thesis papers right now, and I keep running across things I wish I had said earlier in their writing, things I assumed the student’s knew, but they clearly didn’t. I’m going to keep a running list of posts, all tagged “academic-writing“, that I can then reference for them in the future. Feel free to comment along.

First up, citing the dictionary. In almost every paper, I get a paragraph that starts like this, “Webster’s Dictionary defines (term) as …”

It’s a cop out. It’s a way of adding an extra reference source to your bibliography. You are writing a senior level thesis paper, and you can assume an academic audience. The dictionary definition of any word should be considered general knowledge. The only time you should cite the dictionary is if you intend to give a word a technical definition, something more precise than, or a deviation from, the standard definition. In that case, you may cite the dictionary ONLY if your definition, or your general argument, relies on the difference in definitions between your usage, and general understanding.

You can cite the dictionary definition for the word “deception” if your argument is that the standard usage of the word isn’t precise enough to cover deception in classical performance practice. You may not cite it if you simply intend to argue that such practice IS deception, and the standard usage of the word is sufficient for what you mean by the word.