Tue 17 Mar 2009
An important rule I apply to writing academic papers is this: let the reader decide what's interesting and exciting. I read too many papers in which the authors deem their results interesting themselves, as though this was self-evident to everyone. I understand the urge, often fight it, sometimes unsuccessfully. I want to share with people what I find particularly exciting in my own findings. But the truth is, that's not for me to say. It's for others to decide what's interesting and exciting. That's not to say authors shouldn't highlight what they think is notable or surprising.
Now, this is an unrealistic goal – everyone breaks this rule in their papers. But I think it's important to shoot for. This is a 'show, don't tell' idea. I believe that if I've done good research, presented my topic and my arguments well, and written in an engaging style, I shouldn't have to tell readers what's interesting. And when I read papers that do too much of it, it detracts from the paper, and it loses some legitimacy in my eyes. I instantly think: If this were an interesting finding, I would have thought that already. The authors telling me they think it's interesting only makes me suspicious.
The same thing goes for wine labels. This weekend we had a nice visit from Tamar's parents, and we went wine tasting up in the Russian River. Ending up in Healdsburg, we tasted at Williamson's tasting room just off the town's main square. These were fairly good wines, and the tasting room does a unique thing by pairing each wine in the tasting with a little bit of food. Something different for each wine. But the bottles are so tacky. They tell all about the winery's Australian ex-pat owners, but don't even tell us what grapes are in the wines. What's worse, the description of the wine breaks my cardinal rule. It says something like (I'm making this up as I don't have the bottle in front of me…):
This exquisite Merlot shows hints of blueberry and ripe cherry on the nose, along with interesting undertones of earth and oak. The balanced tannins and long finish of this wine are ample evidence of excellent structure.
To me, this is tacky. A wine label should tell me a little bit about the winery, maybe much, much less about its owners, and focus on the wine. It should tell me what's in the wine, even if it's 100% Merlot. And it should absolutely describe what the wine-maker thinks about the characteristics of the wine, what foods it should be paired with, etc. But leave the interesting part to the drinker. Let me decide if it has excellent structure, etc. etc., etc. You get the point.