academic writing

The Chronicle has an interesting article on academic writing.  Maybe provocative is the word I want.  It slams academic writing for being needlessly inaccessible and instead suggests that we write more like the way we speak.  Maybe that would make papers easier to read and also reflect the author’s unique style.

Unfortunately, the article rubbed me the wrong way.  It felt like a third of the article was a rant about signing emails with “cheers”.  Then there’s the example of not understanding a written sentence, but the spoken sentence is perfectly clear…  but of course it’s easier to speak than write.  Pauses, gestures, emphasis, pitch, and a variety of other things come across in speech.  Even beyond that, speech between two people is directed – you probably know something about the other person and can better accommodate their background knowledge and way of reasoning.  In a paper, you have to write in a way that works for everyone, and that can be very difficult.

That said, there’s something to be said for making articles easier to read.  Writing should reflect intentional communicative goals – it shouldn’t be complex without reason.  In a similar vein, there’s an expectation in terms of academic writing style which you need to balance.  However, it’s your writing and you’re free to develop and maintain a unique style even if it’s difficult to read.  But you can’t expect many readers without quality writing.

If I had to sum up my opinion, I’d say that all the little aspects of your writing should reflect a strong desire to help the reader understand.  That should lead to articles that are written clearly.


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