Reading a Paper?

At the Chronicle, I read Rachel Toor’s ‘I Just Wrote This Last Night’. It related to something I was just thinking about yesterday. Join me in my thought meanderings. First, Toor’s words:

Most academics don’t present hastily written papers. But they do something almost as bad. They read their papers aloud. Some professors read their lectures. It’s common practice, I know, but frankly, it bugs me. It’s hard enough for an audience to follow a short story, where, presumably, some attention is being paid to crafting narrative tension. Having to track audibly an argument written in long, convoluted sentences and leaden, jargon-ridden prose can feel like a forced drowning.

There’s a hard balance between making oneself clear and understandable while presenting a complicated and nuanced argument, and not boring the audience to cuticle-picking distraction. The better talks are ones in which the author says, Here’s what I wrote in the paper, and then summarizes and, well, presents. I can always read the paper myself later.

la_expositoryI write my papers to be read. They are crafted with the idea that I will read them out loud. But I know that this displeases some people.

At Computers & Writing in June, another person at the conference complained about people reading their papers. “I could read it myself.”

Now, I took my paper there. I read the first few pages and then I summarized from there. Mostly because of the above person’s comment.

I write my conference papers for a reason. Actually, I write them for several reasons.

  • to make sure they’re the right length
  • to keep myself to the time
  • to say things well
  • to articulate all my points
  • to give good examples, that aren’t too wordy

I can give my conference papers.

I showed up at Popular Culture’s national convention in April and gave what was supposed to be a twenty minute talk in five minutes, after the moderator allowed questions following each presentation. I had written the paper very carefully to fit the twenty minutes. However, there were only 5 minutes left. So that’s what I used.

speaker-with-overheadAbsolutely they could have read my paper. IF I had given out my paper. (I didn’t.) IF they wanted to take that time. But they weren’t going to.

I can understand not reading a paper that is very technical and jargon laden. However, if you are presenting a conference paper, should it be jargon laden? If everyone planned on reading their papers, wouldn’t they be better written?

How is summarizing and “presenting” different from what I do when I write a paper to be read at a conference? That I don’t know.

I am wondering though.

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