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: My friend Sammy’s professor was unkind, I believe, in writing that Sammy’s last paper was “incoherent.” Sammy is not an idiot and writes very well. For the paper to have been labeled as the work of a person with a screw loose almost destroyed Sammy’s self-confidence. Why would the professor say such a thing?

Sammy obviously has someone watching his back. However, if you are going to be a best friend, you should resist jumping so quickly to wrong conclusions. Professors have a hard enough time deciphering and grading the work of their students without having their words twisted against them. Rather than summarily concluding that Sammy’s professor harshly impugned your friend’s intelligence, you would have better served your friend by examining the word “incoherent.” In terms of writing a suitable academic paper, incoherent does not mean the same as unintelligible.

What the professor was saying was that it was difficult, perhaps impossible, to follow the thread of Sammy’s exposition. When valid, that is a legitimate scholarly criticism. A paper that is not coherent—that is, bound together in logic and organization—does not effectively explain or argue its thesis. The words might be beautifully arranged and the topic an absolute zinger, but without orderly progression from introduction to conclusion, the reader of the paper is not well-served. When the reader is the writer’s professor, one can expect comments about incoherency.

To avoid such complaint, a writer should convey his thoughts in a way that another thinking person can follow without distraction. Not only should the logic and purpose of the paper advance step-by-step, the transition between sentences and paragraphs should be as seamless as possible. In a word, the work should flow. The key words should be repeated as often as needed to help a reader stay on course, and synonyms and substitute phrases should never confuse. In this way, a paper becomes coherent and cohesive and a reader never becomes confused.

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