Friday, October 26, 2012

Dissertations Cause Brain Constipation

Dissertations are, by nature, supposed to be difficult to read.

            Upon basing my studies of the ‘Official Style’ on these highly regarded scholarly papers, I knew that I would have plenty of examples to reference and study when I went in depth on written prose.  Never having been to graduate school myself, I opted to try and research the basic ins and outs of dissertation writing.  Looking through the information I found on the websites of the major leaguers in modern college education, Yale provided me with some insight regarding the dissertation’s purpose: to prove, through writing, of one’s professional knowledge in a specific field of study.  To a normal person that loosely translates to “a giant report that eventually allows you to attach ‘ Ph. D.’ at the end of your name.”  From a student’s perspective, a dissertation is what suddenly transforms you from just a student into a member of the world’s academic elite, and the desire to be well respected goes hand in hand with the desire to be well educated.
Such lofty goals are not without their many tasks and requirements.  It is here that I found out about the strict formatting and writing style allowed in a dissertation. Despite Yale’s guidelines that “originality, engaging the reader and advancing their understanding of one’s topic” should be the overall goal of any dissertation, the actual format approved by academia prevents those objectives from being obtained due to their insistence to cling to the unreadable nature of the Official Style.
The article I found is a dissertation called “The Examination of the Role of Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a Root of Serial Homicide,” written by Maria Pasqualetti, whose work I located using the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse database.  In plain English, the title is basically “A Study of Narcissism in relation to Serial Killers.”  Ms. Pasqualetti, hoping to get their doctorate, is undoubtedly a psychology major. She focuses her paper on murderers, specifically the ones who possess narcissistic personality disorder.  This text writes purely for its specific audience; when a young adult writes a dissertation, it is to impress the panel of professors who have to sit and read through her lengthy paper.  These are the people who ultimately decide if their paper is good enough to deserve a “Dr.” next to their name, so it’s only natural that Ms. Pasqualetti will to use the fanciest language strings possible to impress her judges.  That is the audience, which is the whole reason for this paper to be in existence.  

 The whole thing in its entirety is sixty pages straight of prose followed by almost ten pages of citations... rather hefty, if you ask me, but undoubtedly fitting to the standard of what is expected of her.  I didn’t read the entire paper because doing so would cause me something close to physical pain, and I’m no masochist.  So I skimmed and identified the parts that a typical college student would consider the most unbearable to sift through and tried to convert them into a regular format that normal people would be able to understand.

“Prior research has been expanded upon by contemporary research to take in the concept that serial killers as children are inclined to begin to take on deviant characteristics from petty crime to aggressive daydreams which are inflicted onto victims.” (p. 27)
What this sample really says:  Old and new research about children (who grow up to be serial killers) find that they imagine and perform minor bad acts and project them on victims.

“In addition paternal figures are absent (literally or figuratively) or exhibit authoritative controlling behavior throughout the influential stages of development, whereas the maternal figures are discarding, disciplinary, loathed, suffocating, and controlling.”  (p. 28)
What this sample really says:  At the times when parents make big impressions on children, Father and Mother figures are either absent or very controlling in nature.

“If when examining the crime scene actions, we can determine offender traits, such as psychological standing, then the shared collective characteristics of psychological diagnoses can perhaps be utilized by investigative units.”  (p.35)
What this sample really says:  Psychologists can use the same information gathered at a crime scene to help define traits unique to the killer, which in turn helps law enforcement.

“The idea has been proposed that people diagnosed with this disorder are at an increased risk of aggressive action when confronted with narcissistic injury because of their poorly formulated sense of identity along with a rigid, incomplete repertoire of survival abilities.” (p. 36)
What this sample really says:  Narcissists are more likely to act violently when their feelings are hurt because of their poor self-esteem and immature choice selection of physical reactions.

            If the purpose of a dissertation was to educate, the writing style would not look so archaic.  Clarity and conciseness in the form of shorter sentences is what is preferred by students, not lofty word choices and the overuse of non-specific passive voice.  By the time a reader gets through the second line of what appears to be an never ending sentence, they either get confused by overly verbose word choices or forget what their reading, because all the information that the author tries to cram into one sentence distracts the reader from getting to the main point.  Worst case scenario, the reader gets so frustrated with the density of a piece that they lose interest in the topic completely. 

            It is unfortunate that today’s academic standards require students to read textbooks and articles written in the Official Style, let alone force those same students to emulate it in their own writing, especially in regards to dissertations.  When one considers the true motive of education, it is to enable learning.  This goal will be easier obtained when we knock the Official Style off the pedestal upon which academia currently places it.  

--- Shelby J. Phillips


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