DRMacIver's Notebook

Seeing Your Working

Seeing Your Working

From Style: Towards Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams, page 129:

When someone is thoroughly at home in thinking through a problem, she can suppress in her prose the metadiscourse that records her thinking, allowing little or no of the intellectual process to reach the surface of her prose, or at least to remain the final draft.

Coincidentally, today's newsletter is about the use of writing to understand rather than communicate. Using writing specifically as a place where all your thinking goes on the page, and is thereby improved.

This reminds me of a complaint I often have: It's essentially impossible to learn to do mathematics by reading research level mathematics, because research level mathematics is performance of this form. A proof as presented is almost never a proof as discovered, because the authors have spent a great deal of time refining, generalising, and making the process more elegant. Additionally, it often contains little to no trace of the process that lead to that discovery, and is presented in an entirely different order from that which lead to the underlying insights.

It occurs to me that I would really enjoy reading a book that was just ethnographic studies and interviews of academics, where they talk about the process that lead to some great papers. Ideally these would be by embedded ethnographers who had spent some time observing the academics' actual research process, to try to offset the tendency to historical revisionism that we're all prone to.