Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mungowit's Law: Everyone's Unpublished Work is Brilliant

Let me recommend, either for academic newbies or for those who mentor them, the (relatively) new IHS on-line publication "Scaling the Ivory Tower" (to go straight to the PDF just click here)

Dave Schmidtz was the main (re)writer, but I wrote three sections also. It turned out well, overall, and has some entertaining parts. David S is really a master at thinking about this stuff.

My favorite part is #10 in the section, "Ten Truths About Scholarly Writing." That's where I state what I (modestly) hope will come to be referred to as "Munger's Law" for all eternity. Here's the law: everyone's unwritten work is brilliant.

The full statement goes like this:

Everyone's unwritten work is brilliant
Everyone's written but unfinished work is excellent
Everyone's finished but unpublished work is good, but they won't show it to you
Everyone's published work is...well, most people don't HAVE published work. They are too busy talking about how brilliant their unwritten work is.

Here is my reasoning, from p. 23 in SCALING THE IVORY TOWER (sorry, there are no internal bookmarks in the PDF):

Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. And the more unwritten it is, the more
brilliant it is. You will meet a lot of very glib, intimidating people in graduate
school. They are at their most dangerous holding a beer in one hand and a
cigarette in the other, in some bar or at the table in some apartment. They have all
the answers. They can tell you just what they will write about and how great it
will be. Years pass, and they still have the same pat, 200 word answer to “What
are you working on?” It never changes, because they are not actually working on
anything. You, on the other hand, actually are working on something, and it
keeps evolving. You aren’t sure you like the section you just finished, and you
are not sure what will happen next. When someone asks you the dreaded, “What
are you working on?” you stumble a bit, because it is hard to explain. The smug
guy with the beer and the cigarette? Because he is a poseur, and never actually
writes anything, he can practice his pat little answer endlessly, through hundreds
of beers and thousands of cigarettes. Don’t be fooled: you are the winner here.
Michael Munger, "Ten Truths About Scholarly Writing", p. 23 in IHS, SCALING THE IVORY TOWER, David Schmidz, et al, 2005.

1 comment:

The Unknown Professor said...

Thanks for the BS repellant. It needs to be repeated often, since there's a lot of it around (too much of which, unfortunately I've produced).

I've given the guide (and some of your other rantings) to my grad students.

I always like it when someone else says what I say "nicely" but in a much more blunt fashion. You make a good "bad cop".

Keep up the good writing.