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Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Further Typology of Draft Readers

I enjoyed Eugene Mazo's post below on different kinds of readers of colleagues' manuscript drafts. In the comments, I added one more category of reader/commenter: "The Bikini, whose advice is always: 'This is really two pieces.'"

That was a joke, but not a joke. Notwithstanding that comment's light tone, there certainly are people who give the "it's really two papers" advice all the time. But just because some readers tend to give the same particular advice or ask the same questions repeatedly and thus fairly predictably, that doesn't mean the advice is not valuable. Provided you give your draft to a range of readers with a range of hobby-horses, it's useful to hear even from readers with marked tendencies to ask the same questions of each paper, because as predictable as that reader's conclusions might be as a general rule, sometimes (ie., almost always) authors don't see their own piece clearly. Moreover, you might be the exception that proves the rule, and that's good to know. When someone who sees almost every piece as a bikini-in-waiting agrees that your paper is a genuine one-piece outfit, you know you're safe on that score. 

Still, anyone who delights in the amusement of seeing types and tendencies in the characters of our colleagues (and ourselves) can enjoy this kind of semi-satirical academic sociology in the paper-reading category too. So here are a few more types, and I welcome others (as long as they're on point) in the comments. Some such readers may include: 

1) The Sullen Adolescent, who asks of most pieces, "So what?" 

2) The Fixer, or perhaps, in tribute, The Markel, who demands some "normative" or prescriptive payoff at the end of each piece; who asks every time whether the piece is "merely" descriptive or whether it has some fix or solution--the inevitable Part IV of so many legal academic papers. Others can disagree with me altogether or modify the description, but it seems to me that this was our friend Dan's favorite question, and a source of endless disagreement and debate with his friends, who if they're like me would gladly have that debate a few more dozen times.

3) The Publisher's Agent. Do such readers take money under the table from the university presses? Knowing what I do about the budgets of those presses, I doubt it. But the advice from this reader is invariably, "This is really a book."

4) The Librarian, whose reaction to each piece is to begin, "Have you read...?" and provide a long reading list of (possibly) relevant cites and sources. (I am often a Librarian as a manuscript reader.)

5) The Careerist, whose advice for papers is aimed at less at encouraging the writer to follow his or her own scholarly muse as such, and more at helping the writer to play the academic game with cunning and skill. I am fairly convinced that I have seen enough smartly shaped and tailored papers from well-trained law school fellows and VAPS to spot the behind-the-scenes advice of a Careerist. One could say much more about this category of advice, and advisor. But I am feeling unusually prudent this morning.

6) The Gamer. Similar to the Careerist but with advice aimed at a slightly different, if overlapping, goal. The Gamer's advice is aimed not at advancing the career of the paper's author, but at passing along all the tricks and tools that may advance a paper's placement chances. (As I say, the goals overlap.)   

7) The Careerist-by-Proxy. A cross between the Careerist and the Librarian. Like the Careerist, the Careerist-by-Proxy advises authors with the hope of career advancement; but the career this reader seeks to advance is his or her own. Like the Librarian, this advisor offers a well-stocked shelf of sources for the author to cite; unlike the Librarian, the stock of the Careerist-by-Proxy consists mainly or entirely of his or her own work. The advisor's own cite count and academic stock rises as a result. The Careerist-by-Proxy may be defined as someone who is adept at buttering his own bread with other people's loaves. Is there a little Careerist-by-Proxy in most of us when we act as readers? I suspect there is. 

Provided they're on point, dealing specifically with types of draft readers, feel free to add your own. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 15, 2015 at 09:21 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


Paul and to a lesser extent Miriam: For what it's worth, I can see value in each of these types, at least at times. I do have concerns about the systemic effects of some of these advice types, even when the advice is both useful for the advisee and well-intended, and I think both advisers and advisees might sometimes give thought to those effects. But this is not a "Fixer" piece. Consider it a bit of somewhat satirical legal-academic sociology.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jan 15, 2015 11:28:35 AM

Oh I do so love the Librarian. Dan was a very fine Librarian by the way.

We should probably add the Essayist to the list: "Have you considered shortening this and submitting it as an essay?" I have to give this more thought, but for some reason, I intuitively group the Bikini, Essayist and Publisher's Agent within a single uber category of readers who either personally dislike the standard law review article format, or who otherwise cannot conceptualize the writer's piece as a single, successful law review article. The second scenario may suggest a true problem with the draft; the first simply reflects the reader's bias.

I have no issue with either the Careerist or Gamer. I have sought advice from both types and I have tentatively given some advice along those lines (with caveats that I still consider myself a developing novice). To some degree, a school's research dean ought to play this role with the school's junior scholars and do so openly, albeit with the reminder that good scholarship (as opposed to good placement) is the overriding goal.

Posted by: Miriam Baer | Jan 15, 2015 11:10:08 AM

In mild defense of the careerist-by-proxy, if you send it to a genuine expert in the subject area, they kind of have to act like this sometimes. Because they have views on the subject! Based on knowledge! And often times, those views and the knowledge have been published!

At least, I say this in anticipatory self-defense, having just asked to review a paper right at the sentence of my personal wheelhouse...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jan 15, 2015 10:10:18 AM

Don't forget The Hooker, who always says: "Your substance is fine if a bit esoteric. But you need a better 'hook' to make it interesting for the reader."

Posted by: Eugene Mazo | Jan 15, 2015 9:44:56 AM

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