Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Having to Translate

A  couple of days ago I received a copy of a journal article, and was excitedly reading the first paragraph of it aloud to some of the lecturers and support staff in our School's reception area.

I finished triumphantly (and the meaning was crystal clear to me) and a fellow lecturer said "But what the hell does that mean?"

"Oh. That case studies are a legitimate form of research."

"So why didn't they say that, then?"

Good point.

As I have previously mentioned, I am doing Inger Mewburn's MOOC, How to Survive your PhD. This week the materials are on the topic of frustration, and amongst them are resources on academic writing.

Academic writing certainly isn't - to the uninitiated - plain English. Lots of the language has such narrow meanings that if you aren't a member of the in-group, it is incomprehensible.

Like this from my Master's study "However, Fisher appears to be more of a qualitative empiricist than I, so his actual methods are less suitable for my epistemological approach. I am taking a qualitative, critical realist perspective, and want to observe what happens with my lecturers and students in their individual social construction, allowing the data to emerge." (Young, 2014, p. 56).

But this type of academic language does have value. It provides shortcuts to agreed definitions for some very specific ideas which have a huge raft of other ideas being towed along behind them. It probably took me my whole undergraduate degree to really 'get' qualitative and quantitative research; ten or so textbooks to understand what epistemology is; another three or so texts plus a dozen papers to 'know' critical realism; several years of conversation and reading for social construction; and still more targeted reading to understand the unnatural fit of empirical research with my own research design.

But. I had to search hard to find the paragraph above in my Master's thesis. I try to simplify... but it is hard work.

And the journals don't like it.

  • Reference: Young, Sam (2014). Making leadership cases impactful: a comparison of teaching methods. NZ: University of Auckland Master's Thesis

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