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Eric Dayton, Philosophy Faculty

Developing Style

How does a strong student begin to develop his or her own style of writing?

There [are] two different kinds of voices that emerge: one is the actual sound of your writing, in a sense...and that's a matter of turn of phrase and vocabulary and those are important skills for rhetorical reasons... You know, rhetoric is not all a bad thing, even though it's not necessarily aimed at the truth; it helps the reader see where you're going and see clearly. The ability to use examples and so on I think is...that's fairly idiosyncratic and people develop it simply by acquiring the ability to think clearly about issues. And then there will always be idiosyncratic ways of phrasing and different people [will] have sort of...different examples come to mind, and there will be characteristic examples. I tend to think very outrageous and silly examples, some people like very studious examples and closely connected to the text. I think that kind of thing just emerges all by itself. Now, if you were in English, then that's important, because you want to have, if you like, a literary voice. Lots of philosophers never develop a literary voice. Some of the best ones do, but some of the best ones don't. They're horrible writers, from that point of view. They're clear, but their writing is ugly. Philosophers would rather have ugly clarity than beautiful confusion. Although, beautiful clarity is the best, if you get it.