Sorcery with words

Letters respond to the March article 'Words and sorcery'.

I have read with much interest the article ‘Words and sorcery’ by Simon Oxenham and Jon Sutton (March 2015). I believe that writing is a talent and for those who need to learn how to do it, the process is long, tough and made up of several trails and exercises. As an undergraduate student, the aim of our essays, lab reports and coursework is generally to convey a clear, concise, coherent message about a certain topic with a critical point of view. It is also important to explain the main concepts through the use of an accurate style and to define jargon and psychology terms as well.

The suggestions and tips that I have read in Oxenham and Sutton’s article are extremely useful, and I have noticed some similarities with what our professors taught us – taking time to construct your work, thorough researching references that may help us to better understand the topic we have to write about, and building a logic and objective argument. Sometimes, even reading badly written articles might be an effective technique to understand what we, as students, have to avoid doing.

Here, I would like to share some articles and books that I find fascinating and wonderfully written. It is hard to choose only few papers among all those that have been published in these years, and therefore I have selected my own favourites. The article ‘The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system’ by Conway and Pleydell-Pearce in Psychological Review (2000) is a brilliant work; Loftus and Palmer’s 1974 study in the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour ‘Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory’ about false memories and how they can be formed is fascinating, and I remember I enjoyed reading it when I had to do a lab report related to this concept; then, Kapur et al.’s 2005 paper in Schizophrenia Research ‘From dopamine to salience to psychosis – linked biology, pharmacology and phenomenology of psychosis’ is in my own opinion a hallmark in the schizophrenia research field – it is written in such a way that the major complex concepts are clearly explained and can be understood also by non-professional individuals.

Finally, in terms of books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) and Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sack are both masterpieces that I would recommend to everyone. Sacks’s books are a journey into the fragile human mind, and through his style he enables the reader to understand the processes and implications underlying neurological and clinical disorders in a clear, engaging and touching way.
Sarah Pisani
Psychology undergraduate
City University London

Thank you for including my response alongside the three other responses (April 2015) to your article ‘Words and sorcery’ (March 2015). I particularly enjoyed the response from James Hartley, especially when I discovered that my response’s Flesch count (46.3) was within a smidgeon of his (47.8). Will you warn future contributors ‘Under 30 not admitted’?

A further thought: What a pity you did not quote the opening paragraph of Karl Wiggins’s poetry collection Words Are Our Sorcery (2014):

‘Words are the writer’s sorcery, our dark arts and our sleight of hand. They’re our enchantment and our temptation. Words flow around my brain, pulsating and swimming, knocking into one another until I can finally ambush them and leak them out onto the page. This, believe it or not, is how I write. Sometimes I overindulge myself and it gets out of hand, but that’s how I like it, it’s how I’ve ghosted some of my best creations.’

Is this what you had in mind when you wrote the title? Would you accept the ‘ghosted creations’ of we mere psychologists?
Joshua Fox
Hailsham, East Sussex

Editor Jon Sutton, co-author of the article, replies: I wish I could say that link was deliberate, but I wasn’t aware of that piece! Instead, I chose the headline based on my desire for a painfully extended metaphor about fantasy lands, and for the anagram of ‘sword’ as in ‘sword and sorcery’. The point in the article about falling on barren land is apt, given that even the Assistant Editor didn’t pick up on that until about a month after publication.

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