How to make academic writing thrilling…

Or as if it belongs in a thriller anyway. I love these first three lines by David L Goodstein, in his book, States of Matter

Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics.

And I also have a soft spot for these now famous spoof acknowledgements from Olin Shivers in The Scheme Shell Reference Manual:

Who should I thank? My so-called “colleagues,” who laugh at me behind my back, all the while becoming famous on my work? My worthless graduate students, whose computer skills appear to be limited to downloading bitmaps off of netnews? My parents, who are still waiting for me to quit “fooling around with computers,” go to med school, and become a radiologist? My department chairman, a manager who gives one new insight into and sympathy for disgruntled postal workers?

My God, no one could blame me—no one!—if I went off the edge and just lost it completely one day. I couldn’t get through the day as it is without the Prozac and Jack Daniels I keep on the shelf, behind my Tops-20 JSYS manuals. I start getting the shakes real bad around 10am, right before my advisor meetings. A 10 oz. Jack ‘n Zac helps me get through the meetings without one of my students winding up with his severed head in a bowling-ball bag. They look at me funny; they think I twitch a lot. I’m not twitching. I’m controlling my impulse to snag my 9mm Sig-Sauer out from my day-pack and make a few strong points about the quality of undergraduate education in Amerika.

If I thought anyone cared, if I thought anyone would even be reading this, I’d probably make an effort to keep up appearances until the last possible moment. But no one does, and no one will. So I can pretty much say exactly what I think.

Oh yes, the acknowledgements. I think not. I did it. I did it all, by myself.

Whoever said academic writing had to be dry?

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2 Responses to How to make academic writing thrilling…

  1. Sue Guiney says:

    Interesting and a topic near to my heart. This is what I spend my SOAS life doing…i even have taught a workshop there called “Academic Writing Can Be Creative Writing.” It’s a sort of personal mission (yes I know — one of many) to “wetten” academic writing.

  2. Sarah says:

    They are lucky SOAS students, Sue x

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