How do you know what to do when you are revising your writing? Revision always involves making a judgment about your own work. You become a self-evaluator. But what criteria do you use?
Art educator and philosopher Elliott Eisner (1976, pp. 140-141) suggested that any evaluation of your own and/or others’ artistic or creative work demands a combination of connoisseurship and the critical.
Eisner described the art of connoisseurship as a private appreciation of experiences, be they gastronomic, aesthetic or textual. And appreciation, according to Eisner, means both being informed about the qualities of the experience and discerning of its attributes and subtleties – sometimes called developing “taste” and understanding “quality”. These two terms, taste and quality, indicate the connection of connoisseurship with norms and social/economic power.
Appreciation is “the basis for judgment”, Eisner wrote. But he argued that appreciative connoisseurship is insufficient by itself in evaluation. The public art of the critic is also important.
The critic’s job is, according to Eisner, to disclose the object of appreciation (a cuisine, a wine, a text) using “adumbration, suggestion, implication, connotation and rendering”. The critic does not translate. The critic interprets, “using metaphor and analogy, suggestion and implication”, in order to “brightly illuminate”, to help themselves and others to ‘see’ what a work or a text might be and mean.
Eisner’s twinned concepts of connoisseur and critic can be helpful when thinking about revising academic writing. The Janus-like connoisseur-critic reads and appreciatively evaluates their own and other’s writings. They develop ideas about what constitutes “good” academic writing, also understanding that any judgments of writing quality are framed by disciplines, institutions and wider social norms.
Connoisseur judgments can be put to the test through public discussions. It is through discussion in reading groups and in our writing about literatures, that we can develop, explain, deconstruct and justify our evaluative writing criteria. Our internalised understandings of the writer’s craft – structure, narrative, word choice, sentence length and syntax, metaphor and simile, anecdote and so on – may be challenged. But this helps to build our academic writing knowledge and know-how.
Losing the metaphor, we can say that is through ongoing reading that we develop own internalised criteria for what counts as ‘good’ in academic writing. Further, we can say that outing our internalised appreciative ideas means that we can examine, in public and perhaps in the company of others, our own writing decisions, assumptions and beliefs. Such public writing conversations may challenge and reduce the restrictive power of unhelpful norms.
We can then put our interrogated criteria for ‘good writing’ to the task of refining and revising our crappy first drafts. Reading for the writing supports our own writing.
This post is a belated answer to a question about what I mean when I say “read for the writing”.
Eisner, E. (1976). Educational connoisseurship and criticism: Their form and functions in educational evaluation. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 10(3/4), 135-150.