How to write in your books (and other texts), part 2.

This morning’s Washington Post devotes an entire page to a marked-up transcript of a recorded conversation featuring Bob Woodward, President Trump, and Kellyanne Conway. Reporter Aaron Blake models critical reading: noting key passages and comparing them both to each other and other information he knows.

Conway: I said you tried talking to everybody? What about when you interviewed, like, other people? They all said yes? That they’d try?  BW: Yeah, well, about six or seven people. I tried. And I couldn’t have — you and I spent a whole lunch on it, Kellyanne. And I said, I want to cover the substantive issues in foreign policy and domestic policy. And you said you would get back to me. Nothing.  Conway: Yeah. So, I did. I presented it to the people here who make those decisions, but . ..  BW: Who are the people?  Conway: But anyway, I’ll give you back to the president. And I’m glad to hear that you tried through seven or eight different people. That’s good. You should tell him all the names. [Laughs] Thank you.  Trump: But you never called for me. It would’ve been nice, Bob, if you called for me, in my office. I mean, I have a secretary. I have two, three secretaries. If you would’ve called directly — a lot of people are afraid . . . Raj, I hardly have . . . I don’t speak to Raj."

In a particularly good section, Blake examines both internal tensions (Conway’s refusal to answer who denied Woodward’s request for an interview with Trump) and external tensions (Raj Shah’s position as principal deputy press secretary vs. Trump’s statement that “I don’t speak to Raj.”).

Note how Blake chooses a verb that signals the significance of Trump’s statement: “Trump admits Shah is doing that without talking to him.”

Also note how earlier in the transcript, Conway shifts to the passive voice to obscure responsibility: “I put in the request. But you know, they — it was rejected.” Woodward asks, “Who are the people?” in a failed effort to pierce the fog.

[Aaron Blake, “Transcript: Phone Call between President Trump and Journalist Bob Woodward,” Washington Post, September 5, 2018.]

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Bill Hayes has posted several photographs of books annotated by the late Oliver Sacks. Sacks not only flagged key passages; he also recorded his own reactions, turning his reading into an active conversation with the author.

See also, How to write in your books.

A Layperson’s Reading List in American History, 2018

I was recently interviewed by my dear friend Will Bachman for his podcast, Unleashed – How to Thrive as an Independent Professional. I tried to argue that while the most common subjects for popular history—wars, murders, disasters, sports, etc.—have their place, independent consultants and other professionals could benefit from broadening their history reading beyond those topics.

I have posted some suggested titles to get them and others started as A Layperson’s Reading List in American History, 2018. For some older suggestions, see A Layperson’s Reading List in American History, which I most recently revised in 2004, and A History Professor’s Guide to Audible.com, from 2013.

How to write an outline: now with decimals

I have updated my page on How to Write an Outline to reflect my growing preference for decimal rather than alphanumeric outlines. Alphanumeric outlines repeat letters and numbers, so the reader must flip back and forth to figure out if a point labeled “3” is II.B.3 or III.A.3. Decimal outlines solve this: it’s always point 2.2.3. Also, decimal outlines offer an easier check on an overgrowth of points. Rather than tell students they may not use letters and numbers higher than V, E, 5, e, etc., I can simply tell them to write the outline without any digits over 5, anywhere in the structure.

I have also removed the reference to The Craft of Research, since the 4th edition does not include the useful advice that appeared in the 3d. In its place, I refer readers to the Purdue OWL page on Types of Outlines and Samples. And I’ve changed the way I outlined Wells’s introduction.

I’ve kept the old version online for fans of Roman numerals.

Critical reading of short texts

Even street signs can have meanings distinct from their explicit message.

Dan Malouff, “Here Are Five Street Signs That Really Mean the Street Design Is Wrong,” Greater Greater Washington (blog), November 1, 2017, https://ggwash.org/view/65399/five-street-signs-that-really-mean-the-street-design-is-wrong.

This sign really means we’re happy to throw a guilt trip at outsiders, but not happy to give our children a sidewalk.

Image by Magnolia677 on Wikipedia licensed under Creative Commons.

Selingo: Employers want college graduates who can write

Jeffrey J. Selingo, “Why Can’t College Graduates Write Coherent Prose?,” Washington Post: Grade Point, August 11, 2017:

Extensive writing is rarely assigned in many college courses because it’s labor-intensive, raising the workload for students and professors. Students don’t understand why they need to write five-page papers, let alone 20 pages, given that many of them won’t write much more than PowerPoint slides, emails, or one-page memos once in the workplace.

But training for any activity in life requires a level of practice that usually exceeds the tasks we will need to handle later on. This time spent on a task is sometimes called the 10,000 hours theory — that it takes roughly that amount of practice to achieve mastery in any field. Not every college graduate needs to be a novelist, but if college students become competent writers who draft clear prose, then they’ll also be able to compose anything on the job, from PowerPoint slides to reports.