[This is a repost from August 2011]
Too many of us are addicted to lists in your writing. What does this look like? Well, something like this:
“In sum, my dissertation uses interviews, surveys, textual analysis, and internet research in order to explore the impact of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace on the social networks, family connections, and romantic relationships among a range of undergraduate students at large universities as well as small colleges, in order to analyze the differences in usage patterns by variables such as race, gender, sexuality, and age.”
The list is the flabbiest form of a scholarly argument. It is basically additive instead of analytical, and it simply piles on new variables instead of doing the work of winnowing and ordering them to make a clear, focused argument.
List-addiction is epidemic among young scholars who are trying to please everyone instead of fighting the good fight of declaring an argument and seeing it through to its singular conclusion. Or who are trying to prove that they can do everything and have no gaps in the project. Or who are just imprecise writers.
Here is a typical example, adapted from a client document:
My research focuses on transnational Latin American history and culture, comparative race and ethnicity, and critical geography. At its core, my work is interested in how cultural and economic processes produce social inequality and how ordinary people interpret, inhabit, and influence these processes. I employ critical theories of race and space to investigate how national and transnational histories of war, empire, labor, and migration articulate through Latin American social and cultural practices. My research explores how these histories shape the formation of LatinAmerican identities and communities in relation to the production of racialized landscapes.
Count the dyads (8), and the lists (3).
The outcome is a dizzying jumble of words that skims over a giant set of variables instead of clarifying a project.
If you find lists in your job documents, and this would include lists of methods, fields, variables, and in particular courses that you propose to teach, remove them immediately.
This one in common: “I am prepared to teach any of the following courses on your course listing: ANTH 101, ANTH 102, ANTH 124, ANTH 125, ANTH 303, ANTH 364, ANTH 401, ANTH 402, and ANTH 499, as well as other courses as appropriate.”
Who wants to read a list of course numbers?
Some lists are necessary—sometimes you must list the texts you study, the methods you utilized, or the topics you cover. The litmus test is not the appearance of a single list, but of a series of lists. If you have lists in every sentence, and dyads as far as the eye can see then that is list addiction. Want a quick diagnosis? Do a universal search for “and” in your document–if you have a case of list addiction, it’ll light up.
A mature job candidate will articulate a singular position, take a stand, and be prepared to defend it. And that courage of conviction—manifested in the choice of one thing as the best thing—is what makes a scholarly reputation, and gets tenure track jobs.