Reading, Thinking, and Writing Outside Your Discipline
Kelly Carty, Consultant
It’s midterm season. Hurrah! The past couple of weeks and many weeks to come seem like an endless stream of dense readings, papers, problem sets, oral examinations, and/or death by multiple choice tests.
Take a moment. Step inside my blog post. Let me transport you back to a long lost time when you could read what you wanted and write incomplete sentences dotted with emojis. Let me tell you about reading, thinking, and writing outside your field of study.
Surprise! This time isn’t so long lost. If you are like me, you probably do quite a bit of reading and writing unrelated or tangentially related to your discipline even when you are busy.
What am I talking about? Well, regardless of how busy I am or how stressed I feel, I spend quite a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing on Facebook as I browse my newsfeed and write statues or comments in response. Also, as I am guessing is the case with many of you (and by you, I mean faculty, staff and students), I rarely read or write about my current fields of study (English literature and Writing Center pedagogy) on Facebook. Instead, I read and write about current events, music, my home life, and other seemingly random things. For example, the last things I read or wrote about on social media concerned:
The location of free food on UofL’s campus
The most recent presidential debate
Beck’s Debra (this is actually related to one of my classes, but it has a convoluted explanation)
Moreover, in addition to reading and writing on Facebook, I spend time reading and writing on topics tangentially related to my fields of study in the non-social media cyber world. Actually, I often do more of this type of reading and writing when I am busy with school or work because it seems like a useful break. For example, when I was reading the Canterbury Tales as an undergraduate, I found this gem of a revision to the Wife of Bath’s Prologue. Recently, when my younger brother was tasked with reading the Canterbury Tales, I sent him a link to this revision along with a little review. Over the past three weeks, as I wrote papers and read new plays for my Shakespeare class, I read Wikipedia pages on patriarchy, Aufheben, Gaius Marius, Husserl, Writing and Difference, Cleopatra, and the largest monoliths that have been found on Earth. I also wrote many exasperated notes to my boyfriend about how I didn’t (and still don’t) understand Hegel.
How are these adventures in reading and writing different than the reading and writing I do for my field of study?
I can choose what I want to read
Until I am fortunate enough to design my own courses, most of my academic readings will be carefully outlined on my professors’ syllabi. In my own world of social media and Internet wanderings, I can read whatever strikes my fancy. I can read about radical leftist organizations after watching a documentary on the Weathermen, 1,000 tweets classified under #debates when I want to know how the Twittersphere feels about Trump’s comments, or news articles about cutting edge science when I feel like I’m losing my knowledge of biology.
I can use unconventional punctuation and grammar
When I write for the world of academia, I am hyperaware of grammar and usage conventions. When I write on social media, I often intentionally break these conventions. For example, during the last presidential debate, I posted:
WHY IS LOCKER ROOM TALK AN EXCUSE
I realize this question should end with question mark and that only the first letter needs to be capitalized, but I wanted to convey an emotion and an opinion that a single capital letter and a question mark would dampen.
Moreover, I had the following conversation on Facebook chat with my brother:
Me: Im gonna write about hegel
Bro: “Dialectic, but now exactly in the Marxian sense
Just keep repeating that
Should be fine
Bro: Works for trumps
There are many grammatical and usage errors in these messages. However, both my brother and I were able to convey our thoughts effectively and humorously to one another. Although it is likely that I would be able to convey the same ideas within the bounds of academic conventions, it is unlikely that I (or my brother) would be able to do it as quickly.
I can use slang and images to describe my thoughts
Furthermore, writing outside of my discipline allows me to use slang and images to convey my thoughts. When conveying my frustration over writing papers, I sent a message to my colleagues that read “Papers fj&2#8,@)@;/8 ugh.” When I was on a short road trip with lots of traffic and my dad asked me how the ride was going, I sent him this image of my cat:
(I realize this isn’t writing, but it might as well be.)
How are these activities similar to the reading and writing I do for my field of study?
I process information through text and images
This point is both obvious and important. Whether I’m reading Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, a theoretical paper on semiotic squares, my mom’s Facebook posts, or text messages from a friend, I am asked to make meaning of text and images.
I emphasize main ideas
When I read articles for class or for my own academic research, my foremost concerns are the main ideas. I ask constantly ask myself, what is this author trying to say? How does the main idea of this article relate to what I am doing in class or what I am researching?
When I read tweets, Facebook posts, and news articles, I have the same concerns. What is this article’s main point about the most recent WikiLeaks update? How does #WomenWhoVoteTrump relate to electoral politics?
I am ultimately concerned about conveying meaning
When I write for the academic world, I want my readers to understand the ideas I am presenting. It would be useless if I turned in a paper that was utterly meaningless. In fact, when I write papers, I often read them to other people to make sure they correctly convey the thoughts I intend to convey.
When I write Facebook posts, tweets, and text messages, I focus on conveying meaning as well. As I have alluded to above, I often eschew conventional grammar and usage in non-academic writing to enhance my meaning.
My challenge to you is to think about the writing and reading you do outside of your field of study. How do those activities compare to the reading and writing you do within your field of study?