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1st Humor Guideline – Use it Carefully 幽默守则第一条-幽默要小心运用

One of the rules laid out for writers of serious papers is… don't try to be funny. There is wisdom in such counsel. It indeed is wise not to try to be funny. Every comedian who has died on stage when his humor falls flat can attest that nothing is more painful than failing to connect with an audience. Academic writers often present their material to an audience of one, who grades the material even more mercilessly than a nightclub crowd. So, yes, if humor is not your forte , don't try to force it on your professor. But if you do have talent for turning an amusing phrase, use it.


Nearly every person—of course, some don't have a clue—knows whether he is amusing in his expression. Yet even those who have such talent don't always employ it effectively. They joke too much, and too much of any good thing usually is bad. They try to amuse people at inappropriate times, when solemnity clearly is preferred. They perhaps get too raw in their jesting or become slapstick in their delivery. Scholarly writers certainly will not impress anyone with any of the above. So, as much thought should be given to the context of humor as to the humor itself.


Knowing when to inject an amusing comment is even more delicate in academic writing than in show biz. That's because the goal is not to amuse per se but to communicate a larger point. If a humorous expression distracts a reader from a thread of thought, it is detracting from the paper rather than contributing to its success. Therefore, in a paper as in every other venue, timing is important. A light comment should slip into the flow of thought as naturally as any other element of the writing and for the same reason: to move the reader toward a desired conclusion.


2nd Humor Guideline – Use it Seriously 幽默守则第二条-幽默要慎重使用

Have you heard the one about the funnyman who became a surgeon? He left his patients in stitches. This joke might be amusing if the hearer of it is familiar with the colloquial phrase “in stitches,” which means laughing uncontrollably. If the phrase is unfamiliar, the stab at humor is only puzzling—and puzzlement is never a strength in an academic paper. Therefore, any writer making a comic allusion should be sure that the language of the humor is universal, or at least is in the vernacular of a grading professor. Puzzling humor is worse than leaden use of words.

你听过一个笑话吗?有个喜剧演员当了外科医生,结果病人都笑得阖不拢嘴(译注:这个笑话用了双关语,原文He left his patients in stitches,stitches 有缝线的意思,「in stitches」指笑得停不下来)。如果听的人知道口语词「in stitches」是让人爆笑不止的意思,那这个笑话就很好笑。如果听的人不知道,就会看不懂原本的幽默,而看不懂绝对算不上学术论文的优点。因此,写作时如果要做幽默的比喻,要确定这种表达一般人都看得懂,或至少用的口语,打分数教授看得懂。看不懂的幽默,比沉闷的表达还糟糕。

More to the point, the insertion of a humorous aside or reflection always should help drive a narrative forward. It should help build momentum and add to a logical string. If it does none of that, it is doing the opposite—it is slowing and frustrating a reader. When a writer senses that his message is not crisp and lively, and chooses to be humorous in an effort to give it some “zip,” he has chosen unwisely. Reworking an entire body of writing to enliven it is always the best choice. Only if resorting to humor genuinely energizes a paper and advances a message is it acceptable.


Because humor has, by definition, a comic side, it must be used purposefully. Scholars are purposeful in their scholarship, all learning being a serious and gratifying undertaking. It is, in a phrase, no joking matter. Consequently, any humor that comes across as levity, or frivolous, is out of character with scholarly writing. Therefore, any writer who uses all proven communication techniques—including humor—indeed runs the risk of failing. However, if he succeeds, his reward is peer and professorial recognition as a disciplined, powerful communicator.


3rd Humor Guideline – Use it Sparingly 幽默守则第三条-幽默要节制使用

Humor in an academic paper is rare because it is virtually proscribed. Beginning writers are advised—make that… strictly warned—not to employ humor for the sensible reason that it is a difficult communication technique. Consequently, many beginning writers mature without ever having used an amusing aside or light touch. They simply do not use humor. That's regrettable. Those willing to employ humor in a paper—in such light sprinklings that they almost honor the prohibition—can earn the respect of professors for communicating clearly and engagingly.

学术文章几乎不许运用幽默,因此很少看到幽默。新手作者都听过这个建议-应该说是严格的告诫-不要运用幽默,因为幽默是个困难的沟通技巧。这个理由很合理。因此许多新手作者在磨练成长中,从来不曾在文章里穿插风趣或轻松幽默的文字,完全和幽默保持距离,实在很可惜。至于愿意在论文里运用幽默的人, 尽管只是轻描淡写,好像也同意不该用幽默一样,但却因为表达清晰生动而能获得教授青睐。

Here's an example: In describing the reaction of a laboratory rodent, a writer might straight-forwardly observe, “The mouse smelled the tainted sugar, its nose reacting to the injected block, and returned to its cage.” That is a serviceable statement, but this is better: “The mouse sniffed at the sugar cube, sneezed, and turned tail on the treat.” Nothing in this recounting of the lab experience is frivolous, funny as such, or distracting. Yet the reader is given a gently arresting image that has the power to tease out a smile… that of a scampering, sneezing, retreating mouse.


A less disciplined writer might have gone overboard and written…”The mouse seemed to suspect the sugar contained a mickey, turned, and ran back to Minnie.” While this allusion to Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse is cutely apt—a “mickey” is a secretly drugged drink or food—it tries too hard to incorporate them. The result is a tangent for a reader, a detour rather than continued forward movement of a narrative. Humor should not be used often, and never employed with a heavy hand , because the result is neither funny nor effective.


4th Humor Guideline – Use it Surprisingly 幽默守则第四条-幽默要出人意表

Comedians or naturally humorous people in social conversation are entertaining because they surprise listeners with something they say. When the mind is expecting to hear one thing and unexpectedly hears something else, it reacts. Researchers who explore how the brain reacts to unexpected stimuli affirm what lay observers already know to be true: Surprise stimulates learning by arousing the brain and drawing attention to a stimulus. Because humor surprises, academic writers should not forfeit it as a tool in stimulating and connecting with readers.


On the other hand, people who reach for humor all the time in their communication injure their cause: They they accomplish just the opposite: They become too predictable. Surprise and predictability are communication opposites. When listeners or readers suspect that a punch line or a humorous twist is coming, they wait for it like vultures, ready to devour it if it isn't lively. In the same way, academic writers who regularly inject humor set up themselves for failure. So, surprise readers. Deftly inject some well- chosen, amusing words at critical moments and win them over.


A professor or academic adviser will react appropriately to an amusing aside—that is, he will instantly become more engaged and more comfortable with the writer. This will happen if the surprise gently lifts his spirits, doesn't detract from the point being made, and merges seamlessly with the sentences immediately preceding and following. The humor should seem to be natural expression and be thoroughly integrated into the serous flow of the paper. When this happens, a reader will be moved by the engaging sentence without pausing to consider just what moved him.