Outtakes and bad ideas

Interesting post today on the SHARP-L list about “bad ideas” that don’t make it into scholarly books. Later in the semester we’ll look at classic works of literature and what did not make the final published versions of such texts, but it’s interesting to ponder academics writing scholarship, accumulating vast amounts of research that ultimately is not used and other such “outtakes.”

Here’s part of the post:

“to probe more deeply into what
gets cut and why, either by ourselves, our editors, or our software.
Is there a value to the bad idea, to the outside of a – or the –
book’s doxa?  Are there common features to bad ideas, a taxonomy of
the unbookish, if you will?  Can we begin to develop a science of the
“outtake” and the outside of media?  What happens when we shift the
conversation from what is in our books to what is not?  How might this
help us not only write better books, but perhaps more importantly, to
think about the nature of the book itself as a medium of scholarly
communication?”

Academics can be notoriously bad writers, so I’m not sure that I’d want to see some of the flotsam that would wash ashore from such  a search, but it’s an interesting concept to ponder given the ease of saving “bad” writing, via the computer, and given the public interest in watching, reading, or listening to parts of movies, chapters of books, alternate versions of hit songs, and so forth that the new media have made it possible for us to get our hands on.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Outtakes and bad ideas

  1. Adam Johnson

    I would tremble to think about some of the awful things I’ve written showing up in an online search. Wouldn’t we all be horrified if the papers we wrote as freshmen in college were made available for everyone to scrutinize? But on the other hand, what if we’re missing some real gems? Maybe it would be nice to include even the worst of academic writing in the hopes that it will spawn some brainstorming where some of those “half-baked” ideas in our worst writing will get a chance for redemption later on down the line.

    Also, I think this could raise an interesting question of how we censor what we consider “good” writing versus bad. How would editors, search engines, etc. be able to discern what would go in the bad pile? And wouldn’t it be a bit insulting to be included in it?

    • Jara

      Coming from a jounalism background, drafts, drafts and more drafts are a way of life. Even when I am finished writing something I give it to a few people to read and proof. If there is no ‘red ink’ I am skeptical and will pass it around some more. When I see the finished piece in print and read it objectively I can relax.

  2. hutchisson

    Good point, Adam!
    I had never thought of how search engines “filter” writing — I suppose that in terms of the quality of the writing, they don’t filter at all. But I agree with you and with the scholar who brought up the idea on SHARP-L that “half-baked” ideas may have value, if only as launching points for corollary topics.

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