Response to Reading and Writing without Authority.


First off, I did not really enjoy or agree with this piece. These authors compared the two writings of a PhD candidate and a Freshman in college, they even commented, “Janet knew nothing  about the study of  ethics; Roger had  become  steeped in  the  tradition. Roger had accumulated knowledge  of the  domain, its issues and its customs; Janet had not. Roger knew how to write as an authority inside the conversation of ethics; Janet was an outsider looking in” (506). Then they spent the next 5 or 6 pages bashing Janet’s writing and making Rodger’s seem Nobel-Prize worthy in comparison. Well, duh his is going to be better, he has 8 more years of college than Janet as well as a previous degree in this academic discipline.

Comparing Janet and Rodger is like comparing apples and oranges.

The authors stated, and I paraphrase that, “giving Janet more knowledge isn’t going to give her writing more presence of authority throughout her piece.” Rather, they suggest, that there is something fundamentally lacking in her writing. Later they blame this deficiency on the knowledge-transfer model of education. I disagree with this. If you are writing about something that you have no knowledge whatsoever of, you are not going to write as if you are the sole authority of the discipline. For example, papers that I wrote for economics classes sound far more intelligent that papers that I wrote for AMCULT classes, a discipline in which I know nothing about.

So, apparently Rodger wrote in a style in which the authors approved of; what I’d be really interested in is a comparison of an essay written by Rodger when he was a freshman in undergrad and Janet’s paper. I would harper to imagine that it lacked ‘authority’ and contained many of the same types of central flaws that were exhibited in Janet’s writing. Also the article neglects entirely the process of examining or interviewing Rodger about how he learned to write authoritatively. Additionally, the article never mentioned the gender disparity in writing, which it perhaps should have included.

One quote that really struck me was, “Janet seemed  well  aware  of the  customary split between  public and personal,  and  continually  resisted inserting herself  in  the  text” (515). I remember that in middle and high school, the English teachers always said, “Never say I in your paper.” What a load of garbage! If there is a relevant example in your life that can be included in the paper, OF COURSE put it in. The one thing that taken from writing at UM is: forget all of the rules of writing.

Overall, I did not feel as though this was informative or worthwhile in any way.

4 thoughts to “Response to Reading and Writing without Authority.”

  1. I do agree with you on the point of Janet and Roger being like apples and oranges. I, too, noticed that was an important characteristic in the study itself. What I would challenge though is that the paper might have not necessarily been making an example of the exemplary and authoritative writing of a Ph.D student as compared to that of a freshman, but rather the different tones that they used in their writing, and how they both came across to the reader. The reader doesn’t know whether or not Janet is a college freshmen, all they know is what she writes.

    Personally, I found that although they could have chosen two people of more similar backgrounds in writing and literature, the information and point presented was helpful to me. I’m wondering: What do you think the gender disparity in the study? It is something I neglected to notice, and I’d love to hear your take on it.


    1. I’m really glad you wrote this blog post critiquing the piece, Jen. I enjoyed the essay, so it was nice to hear the opinion of someone from the other side. Diana poses some intriguing points: while it may not have been the most scientific study, I thought this case study gave the reader a clear understanding of the writing differences between an authoritative, dynamic writer and an author who needs improvement. Yes, any hard science teacher would probably cringe upon viewing the methods of this research. But I don’t think they were going for a perfect experiment. The researchers used this example to further their argument and highlight the point they’re trying to make.

      As you noted, Jen, the authors believe rhetoric knowledge may be more important that content knowledge when forming an argument about a specific topic. I think you’re right in saying an author will have difficulty writing about a topic he or she has no background information on. I believe the authors are trying to say that although a person may have minimal content knowledge, a strong grasp rhetoric will enable a person to properly educate himself or herself on the subject. Although they may not be informed, strong rhetoric skills allow the person to gather proper information and form a strong argument.

  2. I like your one of your last statements when you claim that UM teaches us to “forget all the rules of writing.” I think they teach us that really, there are no rules of writing. Throughout high school, we were taught to write a certain way to receive a good grade. However, we now know that this is not what writing is at all…writing is whatever you want it to be.

    I do like how you felt free to criticize the piece. Like Mark, I liked it, and felt like it attacked some good issues related to our writing styles. It challenged me to never take an author’s ideas as facts. Still, I agree with you in the sense that it may not have correctly analyzed the results from the study. Maybe this piece gives us an example of how one piece of writing can never fully be classified as “the truth.”

  3. Jen,

    I LOVED reading your response to this article. I also felt that this article was extremely dry and predictable. Why wouldn’t a PH.D. assert more authority than an undergrad student, especially given the nature of a PH.D. curriculum? So yes, this article did state the obvious.

    Your criticism of authority, as defined by this scholarly article also was useful, especially as we engage with the ultimate question—what is true authority? Your critique certainly offered an alternative to “authority” that deserve the attention of scholars dedicated to this subject.

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