Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Form, Function, and Content

I've been hit or miss lately with blogging. I have written more than you've read, but I've deleted most of it for not making enough sense even to its author. I've also been having to finish up a semester of graduate coursework, and so I've been doing a lot of writing for professors.
That's the writing I'm focused on this week. It's taking all of my energy and mental effort to do. I've written an interpretation on Colossians 3 for one class, and I'm writing a history research paper.
One thing that is bogging me down is the difference between blogging and academic writing. I already bounce back and forth between writing/composing sermons and writing blog posts, but adding the third flavor, graduate research paper, has been a little tougher.
For example, if in a sermon I quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I'll say "Bonhoeffer said ' (fill in the quote).'" For a blog, I may go ahead and state that "In his book, Discipleship, Bonhoeffer said '(fill in the quote)'." In academic writing, there is the need to: determine if the quote should be inline or block; determine if the professor wants Turabian in-line or footnote; then provide the citation featuring not only the author, book title, but the city of publication? Really? Do you not realize by now that Zondervan is in Grand Rapids? Just like Baker Books. And, even more shocking, Cambridge University Press is in Cambridge? Not Massachusetts, but United Kingdom.
The mandated form is challenging, not because I don't want to credit sources, but because of how they must be credited. Also, it's challenging to determine exactly what to cite. The rule is that anything not general knowledge has to be cited. Yet when I've read a half-dozen books over the last 3 months to write, it's hard to imagine that this stuff isn't common knowledge. Everybody knows early medieval British history, right?
I'd really like to just write out for the professor all that I've learned, attach a list of references that I probably learned it from, and then go on with my life. That's frequently the way I blog: I write, then if a resource is connected, I'll give a little credit to it. When I preach, I'll frequently quote individuals and give their name, but tell you the page number? Not likely. If you ask, I'll show you the book. If you want to pass academically, though, you're going to need to footnote accurately.
However, content, while most important, has to be presented in an acceptable way. The audience drives the form with which you present content.
This is not, in the end, a bad thing. It's easy to get grouchy and say that only content should matter, but is this true? Food provides nutrition, and all food provides some, but some forms are better than others, right?
Most preachers have the same content as other preachers----but it's the form that keeps you listening to one over another. (If you count 'preachers' as only those who actually preach the Bible, the content is similar. Fruitcake pseudo-preachers aren't included.)
Books, blogs, and so forth all contain content, but the form affects how it is received. Academia has its rules
So, while it is necessary to provide good content, make sure your form fits your audience. It's helpful for them: they know where to find it.
It's also helpful for you: by being forced to develop the form based on the audience, rather than yourself, you remember something: the function of communication is not about just you. The function of communication is about you, the message, and the audience. Considering them helps your message come across more clearly.

1 comment:

  1. wow, you soundin' all edumacated and stuff, dude

    (oh, and good points)


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