Professor Pedantic 教授的考究學問
The professor awaits your query on academic writing, though in all honesty, he doesn’t have a lot of time for you. He is a tenured full professor and working on yet another magnificent academic tome. Even so, he has graciously consented to entertain your question. Submit it and prepare to be edified.

QUESTION: In introducing a new subject in my paper, I wrote, “The dictionary defines…” My professor objected to the general dictionary citation. Is it better to give the name of the dictionary?

Giving the name of a dictionary sourced for a particular citation is not a bad idea because being specific usually is better than being general. Such details give a paper weight and credibility. This rule would hold true for other citations, including encyclopedias and other reference materials. On the other hand, if a source is one of meager standing in academia—such as Wikipedia—it might be better to generalize and hope the professor doesn’t notice. In conversation or writing, dropping a name always is done to impress, so choose names carefully.

That said, introducing a new element in a paper with the phrase, “The Cambridge (or Webster’s or whatever) dictionary defines…” often is no more than a cliché. In such cases, it is inserted not to substantiate what follows, but to help pad a paper. The writer is not as interested in establishing the legitimacy of a fact as he is in reaching a minimum level of words in a paper. A professor who reads such a padded paper is apt to have a quite opposite complaint—that identifying the source of a citation is another example of writing extra words to say nothing.

So, unless the subject being introduced is especially esoteric and some extra authority is needed to properly establish its meaning, the best way for a writer to define a new element in a paper is to do so in his own words. Rather than use a dictionary as a crutch, use it as a foundation for a definition of one’s own creation. Original expression—imagine that! Academic writers sometimes forget that they are writing rather than transcribing. As writers, they are asked to put their thoughts and findings on paper using their own vocabularies and individual writing skills.

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