If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times — skip the hyperbole

And adverbs and adjectives for that matter

You know all those things that make magazine articles and books and online content and virtually everything else you read interesting? Similes, analogies, metaphors, hyperbole, and my personal favorite, onomatopoeia? And what about plain old adjectives and adverbs? With dissertation writing, “fuggetaboutit.” Let’s take them one at a time.

Analogies. Example from the movie Forrest Gump. “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Oxford Dictionaries (oxforddictionaries.com) defines an analogy as “A comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.”

Well, then, I guess analogies have no place in dissertations because you shouldn’t need them. The writing has to be clear enough that there is no need for further explanation or clarification. The only kind of comparison might be a causal comparative methodology (research that attempts to identify a cause-effect relationship between two or more groups). So the difference between an analogy and the causal comparative study is that analogies explain or clarify and causal comparative studies identify cause-effect relationships.

Hyperbole. The title of this dissertation tip is a good/spectacular/fabulous/stupendous example of hyperbole:  If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, skip the hyperbole. Thefreedictionary.com defines hyperbole as “a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton.”

With dissertations, exaggeration or overstating could land you in a heap of trouble. Even the use of the words “good,” or “interesting,” or “unfortunately” could be seen as editorializing. All readers are different and bring their own experiences to the table. Just the facts, please.

Metaphors. Example from ereadingworksheets.com. “I was lost in a sea of nameless faces.” Yourdictionary.com defines metaphors as “a figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used of one thing is applied to another.”

Yes, the use of metaphors and other colorful writing techniques would make dissertations more readable, but whoever said that was the purpose of dissertations. No one wants to read a dissertation. I keep a bound copy of my dissertation (a real page-turner) on the bedside table in our guest room. Guests wouldn’t get through the title page (The Combination of Five Factors That Lead to Women Leaders’ Decision to Opt Out of Their Senior Leadership Position) before nodding off.

Onomatopoeia. I had a nun who taught English in the high school I attended who loved to point out uses of onomatopoeia. I was always just grateful that I could finally pronounce it. ˌänəˌmadəˈpēə, änəˌmädəˈpēə/ Wikipedia.com defines it as “a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.” Examples are cuckoo, sizzle, sprinkle, squirt, drip, drizzle. Yourdictionary.com has great examples of onomatopoeia related to voice: giggle, growl, grunt, gurgle, mumble, murmur, bawl, belch, chatter, blurt.

Unfortunately (another word you can’t use in a dissertation), as much as you’d like to make your dissertation content “sizzle,” don’t give in to the temptation.

Adverbs and Adjectives – even these are a no-no. There’s a great article by William Noble “Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose” (http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/nobles-writing-blunders-excerpt, August, 2008) that says that good authors and clear writing don’t need adverbs or adjectives. Noble says that’s usually a mistake that inexperienced writers make. Most of the time both are redundant.

One really well done dissertation I worked on about “wounded warriors” going back to school used this phrase: …The moral imperative academe has to study a neglected group which has [profoundly] sacrificed itself for this country.” I suggested deleting the word “profoundly” because it seemed like editorializing and wasn’t necessary. The content itself made this a powerful statement.

Let’s step back and define each. I know, you shouldn’t be at this stage and need a definition of either but there you have it. I have a master’s in journalism and years of editing experience and I get mixed up. So here goes: An adverb often ends in “ly.” Noble uses these two examples: The stone sank quickly…The fire truck bell clanged loudly… and goes on to say, “how else would a stone sink but quickly?” and “how else would a fire truck bell clang but loudly?”

Mark Twain said: “As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.” Twain is also quoted as saying: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.” And, “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”

In “Cluttered writing: adjectives and adverbs in academia” Rutgers public policy professor Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn counts adjectives and adverbs in some samples of scientific writing and concludes that “social science” writing uses about 15 percent more adjectives and adverbs than “natural science” writing. He then wonders, “Is there a reason that a social scientist cannot write as clearly as a natural scientist?” (http://www.slate.com) I think this is a rhetorical question but that’s a blog for another day.

The title of Richard Compton’s dissertation (http://linguistlist.org/pubs/diss/browse-diss-action.cfm?DissID=38022) was: “The Syntax and Semantics of Modification in Inuktitut: Adjectives and adverbs in a polysynthetic language.” Apparently Inuits don’t use adverbs or adjectives. I think we might be able to learn something from them. While this dissertation topic is pretty deep (I couldn’t really understand the abstract) it does point out that adverbs and adjectives may be superfluous to a centuries-old group. I’m just saying…

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

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