The Hazards of Interdisciplinary Writing, Part One

Life intrudes, so I finally got to reading again the comments on my peer reviewed paper just the other day. I realized that something unexpected was happening with one of the referees:

“I don’t understand your use of this word.”*

“Why don’t you define that word?”

“What are you talking about here?”

“Why would you explore this extreme example when you explicitly say that the cited writer does not call for this interpretation?”**

It seemed a bit picky at first (I did define that term below my first use of it, which was probably a mistake), but I resisted the urge to become defensive, because I realized that I was using language from another discipline to talk about my own, and that this was a problem. I, who have been a science writer and who grew up reading Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, had written a paper lauded by my professor, another Gould enthusiast, but which had made my classmates’ eyes glaze over and apparently was near-incomprehensible to one referee. I ignore this person’s criticism to my peril.

Despite the fact that I remain convinced that if archival science is to call itself a science, it must lean on and pull in other sciences, including information theory, it is incumbent upon me to communicate, not others to read more widely so that they understand *terms, and the concept of the **thought experiment.

The fact, is, while there has been much blogging and writing about interdisciplinary work in the past few years, archivists tend to be in a silo, librarians in another, information scientists in yet another, and here am I, employed in something completely different than all three while taking on the occasional archivist or indexer consulting gig. I do not have a silo at all. How to break down the language barriers between silos? That is something I am going to have to investigate.

At any rate, this national publication which kindly reviewed my paper (and I do appreciate it very much!) should find that my next submission will be more in line with traditional archivist work, highlighting a relatively unexplored topic in unpublished documents. Silos are also valuable, and form for a reason; I have discovered this, too.


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