I've been working on a book chapter, which means in fact revising previous writing I've done. There's nothing to make you aware of your limitations as a writer faster than confront stuff you wrote a year or two years ago, particularly writing which has not yet had a stylistic fine-tooth comb go over it. Anyway, as I write the book manuscript, I have a few goals:
No first person. I keep telling my students that while "I" and an occasional "we" is not wrong per se in formal academic writing, 90 percent of the time, the sentence would be stronger rewritten to avoid 1st person. I'm now trying to practice what I preach. In the process, I realize that writers in our field frequently overuse the 1st person.
A very minimum of process-oriented statements: "in this book," "below," "I will argue," etc. These are particularly part of the convention of the introduction, with its description of what each chapter will do. My goal for the intro is to give much of what is expected from an introduction (i.e. orient the reader to the argument) without merely listing what is to come.
Reduce my reliance on transitional crutches... "still"... "nonetheless"... "on one hand." Obviously these aren't bad in themselves, but my paragraphs start to feel pro forma after a while.
Reduce the number of ordered lists and ordinal adverbs. Reading Habermas and Claus Offe in grad school helped put me in a phase where I strung one numbered list after another. Eventually I realized that what's acceptable in German prose is not in English.
Cut down on repeated metaphors. I have been working on reducing jargon already (though sublation is a really, really handy word!), but what I still indulge in are jargony metaphorical constructions: mechanisms, pulls, transformations, and the like.
No bipartite titles. Well, I'm breaking that rule for one chapter title but so far am clear on the rest.
I don't know how absolute I can be with these goals, but they seem worth keeping.
William Germano, meanwhile, has railed against the evils of two-independent-clause/semicolon constructions. I'm not sure I'm ready to give up that vice.
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