In Defense of Academic Writing
Academic writing has taken quite a bashing since, well, forever, and that’s not entirely undeserved. Academic writing can be pedantic, jargon-y, solipsistic and self-important. There are endless think pieces, editorials and New Yorker cartoons about the impenetrability of academese. In one of those said pieces, “Why Academics Can’t Write,” Michael Billig explains:
Throughout the social sciences, we can find academics parading their big nouns and their noun-stuffed noun-phrases. By giving something an official name, especially a multi-noun name which can be shortened to an acronym, you can present yourself as having discovered something real—something to impress the inspectors from the Research Excellence Framework.
Yes, the implication here is that academics are always trying to make things — a movie, a poem, themselves and their writing — appear more important than they actually are. These pieces also argue that academics dress simple concepts up in big words in order to exclude those who have not had access to the same educational expertise. In “On Writing Well,” Stephen M. Walt argues:
jargon is a way for professional academics to remind ordinary people that they are part of a guild with specialized knowledge that outsiders lack…
This is how we control the perimeters, our critics charge; this is how we guard ourselves from interlopers. But, this explanation seems odd. After all, the point of scholarship — of all those long hours of reading and studying and writing and editing — is to uncover truths, backed by research, and then to educate others. Sometimes we do that in the classroom for our students, of course, but even more significantly, we are supposed to be educating the world with our ideas. That’s especially true of academics (like me) employed by public universities, funded by tax payer dollars. That money, supporting higher education, is to (ideally) allow us to contribute to the world’s knowledge about our specific fields of study.
So if knowledge-sharing is the mission of the scholar, why would so many of us consciously want to create an environment of exclusion around our writing? As Steven Pinker asks in “Why Academics Stink at Writing”
Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand?
Contrary to popular belief, academics don’t *just* write for other academics (that’s what conference presentations are for!). We write believing that what we’re writing has a point and purpose, that it will educate and edify. I’ve never met an academic who has asked for help with making her essay “more difficult to understand.” Now, of course, some academics do use jargon as subterfuge. Walt continues:
But if your prose is muddy and obscure or your arguments are hedged in every conceivable direction, then readers may not be able to figure out what you’re really saying and you can always dodge criticism by claiming to have been misunderstood…Bad writing thus becomes a form of academic camouflage designed to shield the author from criticism.
Walt, Billig, Pinker and everyone else who has, at one time or another, complained that a passage of academese was needlessly difficult to understand are right to be frustrated. I’ve made the same complaints myself. However, this generalized dismissal of “academese,” of dense, often-jargony prose that is nuanced, reflexive and even self-effacing , is, I’m afraid, just another bullet in the arsenal for those who believe that higher education is populated with up-tight, boring, useless pedants who just talk and write out of some masturbatory infatuation with their own intelligence. The inherent distrust of scholarly language is, at its heart, a dismissal of academia itself.
Now I’ll be the first to agree that higher education is currently crippled by a series of interrelated and devastating problems — the adjunctification and devaluation of teachers, the overproduction of PhDs, tuition hikes, endless assessment bullshit, the inflation of middle-management (aka, the rise of the “ass deans”), MOOCs, racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism, ageism, it’s ALL there people — but academese is the least egregious of these problems, don’t you think? Academese — that slow nuanced ponderous way of seeing the world — we are told, is a symptom of academia’s pretensions. But I think it’s one of our only saving graces.
The work I do is nuanced and specific. It requires hours of reading and thinking before a single word is typed. This work is boring at times — at times even dreadful — but it’s necessary for quality scholarship and sound arguments. Because once you start to research an idea — and I mean really research, beyond the first page of Google search results — you find that the ideas you had, those wonderful, catchy epiphanies that might make for a great headline or tweet, are not nearly as sound as you assumed. And so you go back, armed with the new knowledge you just gleaned, and adjust your original claim. Then you think some more and revise. It is slow work, but it’s necessary work. The fastest work I do is the writing for this blog, which as I see as a space of discovery and intellectual growth. I try not to make grand claims for this blog, mostly for that reason.
The problem then, with academic writing, is that its core — the creation of careful, accurate ideas about the world — are born of research and revision and, most important of all, time. Time is needed. But our world is increasingly regulated by the ethic of the instant. We are losing our patience. We need content that comes quickly and often, content that can be read during a short morning commute or a long dump (sorry for the vulagrity, Ma), content that can be tweeted and retweeted and Tumblred and bit-lyed. And that content is great. It’s filled with interesting and dynamic ideas. But this content cannot replace the deep structures of thought that come from research and revision and time.
Let me show you what I mean by way of example:
Stanley has already taken quite a drubbing for this piece (and deservedly so) so I won’t add to the pile on. But I do want to point out that had this profile been written by someone with a background in race and gender studies, not to mention the history of racial and gendered representation in television, this profile would have turned out very differently. I’m not saying that Stanley needed a PhD to properly write this piece, what I’m saying is: the woman needed to do her research. As Tressie McMillan Cottom explains:
Here’s the thing with using a stereotype to analyze counter hegemonic discourses. If you use the trope to critique race instead of critiquing racism, no matter what you say next the story is about the stereotype. That’s the entire purpose of stereotypes. They are convenient, if lazy, vehicles of communication. The “angry black woman” traffics in a specific history of oppression, violence and erasure just like the “spicy Latina” and “smart Asian”. They are effective because they work. They conjure immediate maps of cognitive interpretation. When you’re pressed for space or time or simply disinclined to engage complexities, stereotypes are hard to resist. They deliver the sensory perception of understanding while obfuscating. That’s their power and, when the stereotype is about you, their peril.
Wanna guess why Cottom’s perspective on this is so nuanced and careful? Because she studies this shit. Imagine that: knowing what you’re talking about before you hit “publish.”
Or how about this recent piece on the “rise” of black British actors in America?
Carter’s profile of black British actors in Hollywood does a great job of repeating everything said by her interview subjects but is completely lacking in an analysis of the complicated and fraught history of black American actors in Hollywood. And that perspective is very, very necessary for an essay claiming to be about “The Rise of the Black British Actor in America.” So what is someone like Carter to do? Well, she could start by changing the title of her essay to “Black British Actors Discuss Working in Hollywood.” Don’t make claims that you can’t fulfill. Because you see, in academia, “The Rise of the Black British Actor in America” would actually be a book-length project. It would require months, if not years, of careful research, writing, and revision. One simply cannot write about hard-working black British actors in Hollywood without mentioning the ridiculous dearth of good Hollywood roles for people of color. As Tambay A. Obsenson rightly points out in his response to the piece:
Unless there’s a genuine collective will to get underneath the surface of it all, instead of just bulletin board-style engagement. There’s so much to unpack here, and if a conversation about the so-called “rise in black British actors in America” is to be had, a rather one-sided, short-sighted Buzzfeed piece doesn’t do much to inspire. It only further progresses previous theories that ultimately cause division within the diaspora.
But the internet has created the scholarship of the pastless present, where a subject’s history can be summed up in the last thinkpiece that was published about it, which was last week. And last week is, of course, ancient history. Quick and dirty analyses of entire decades, entire industries, entire races and genders, are generally easy and even enjoyable to read (simplicity is bliss!), and they often contain (some) good information. But many of them make claims they can’t support. They write checks their asses can’t cash. But you know who CAN cash those checks? Academics. In fact, those are some of the only checks we ever get to cash.
Academese can answer those broad questions, with actual facts and research and entire knowledge trajectories. As Obsensen adds:
But the Buzzfeed piece is so bereft of essential data, that it’s tough to take it entirely seriously. If the attempt is to have a conversation about the central matter that the article seems to want to inform its readers on, it fails. There’s a far more comprehensive discussion to be had here.
A far more comprehensive discussion is exactly what academics have been trained to do. We’re good at it! Indeed, Obsensen has yet to write a full response to the Buzzfeed piece because, wait for it, he has to do his research first: “But a black British invasion, there is not. I will take a look at this further, using actual data, after I complete my research of all roles given to black actors in American productions, over the last 5 years.” Now, look, I’m not shitting all over Carter or anyone else who has ever had to publish on a deadline in order to collect a paycheck. I understand that this is how online publishing often works. And Carter did a great job interviewing her subjects. Its a thorough piece that will certainly influence Buzzfeed readers to go see Selma (2015, Ava DuVernay). But it is not about the rise of the black British actor in America. It is an ad for Selma.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling for an end to short, pithy, generalized articles on the internet. I love those spurts of knowledge, bite-sized bits of knowledge. I may be well-versed in film and media (and really then, only my own small corner of it) but the rest of my understanding of what’s happening in the world of war and vaccines and space travel and Kim Kardashian comes from what I can read in 5 minute intervals while waiting for the pharmacist to fill my prescription. My working mom brain, frankly, can’t handle too much more than that. And that is how it should be; none among us can be experts in everything, or even a few things.
But here’s what I’m saying: we need to recognize that there is a difference between a 100,000 word academic book and a 1500 word thinkpiece. They have different purposes and functions and audiences. We need to understand the conditions under which claims can be made and what facts are necessary before assertions can be made. That’s why articles are peer-reviewed and book monographs are carefully vetted before publication. Writers who are not experts can pick up these documents and read them and then…cite them! In academia we call this “scholarship.”
No, academic articles rarely yield snappy titles. They’re hard to summarize. Seriously, the next time you see an academic, corner them and ask them to summarize their latest research project in 140 characters — I dare you. But trust me, people — you don’t want to call for an end to academese. Because without detailed, nuanced, reflexive, overly-cited, and yes, even hedging writing, there can be no progress in thought. There can be no true thinkpieces. Without academese, everything is what the author says it is, an opinion tethered to air, a viral simulacrum of knowledge.
158 thoughts on “In Defense of Academic Writing”
January 8, 2015 at 2:06 pm
Many thoughts here. While I agree that potshots at academic-ese tend to paint with too broad a brush, tarring much academic writing that is actually cogent, clear, and comprehensible. But there is also much that is none of those things, and thus deserve the tar. I am not convinced that incomprehensible prose is any sign of having done the relevant research, theorization, and thinking that marks strong scholarship, in large part because I have read many (and hopefully written a few) scholarly works that are both stylistically clear and academically sound. Amanda – you have written some of those pieces, so if you’re calling yourself a pedant, you have a remarkably shallow view of true pedantry!
Within the humanities, at least, there are a range of reasons why academics are allowed (and sometimes encouraged) to be such bad (meaning dull, unclear, obscure, or dead) writers: the peer review process, the obfuscation-as-shield gesture, the lack of actual training as writers, the infatuation with citationality over originality, and the system where the only readership that really matters is other scholars. But I don’t buy the idea that you cannot express sophisticated, well-grounded, rigorous ideas in clear and engaging prose – within our field, I point to models like Stuart Hall, John Fiske, Susan Douglas, and Robert Allen as scholars I actually love to read (and teach)!
tl;dr version: don’t conflate substance with style.
January 9, 2015 at 11:24 am
I get your point(s), but in this context, I’m LOL’ing at these words: academic-ese, theorization, pedantry, obfuscation-as-shield, citationality. 😉
January 28, 2015 at 3:19 pm
Good observation no doubt. However, there should be serious attempts for creating new terms. The apparent terminological novelty in this piece of writing is too astounding to follow. However, the points of view expressed are so very practical and good to read.
January 8, 2015 at 2:15 pm
Thanks for reading and commenting, Jason.
I don’t think we are in disagreement on any of these points. I believe I stated the same sentiments in the above post. I, too, am against bad writing. Everyone should be. But this is about complexity. We are criticized for our COMPLEXITY when complexity is so sorely needed.
January 8, 2015 at 4:56 pm
I guess I’m not seeing the “complexity is bad” critiques in the examples you cite or that I know of. Sure, some people will always complain that something is hard to understand if they don’t understand it – and often that’s the reader’s fault more than the writer. But I’ve found that if you write clearly about complex issues (and in my case, overusing the word “complexity” itself), readers who are open to longer-form in-depth analysis will embrace it. I think there’s an important place for doing that sort of writing at various lengths and for various venues.
January 29, 2015 at 9:29 am
Complexity is necessary. But passive voice should be eschewed.
Let me restate that:
We need complex language because we are working on complex topics. So use active voice.
Far too few academics know how to use actors and actions. If you write with those, you can make the complicated somewhat less so. But other academics (I’m looking at you, freshman English faculty!) often drill into us that academic writing must be dispassionate, that we must remove the writer from the written. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest problems with academic writing. It is passive. It is flaccid. NOTHING HAPPENS!
Show causality with your writing. Speak on behalf of whatever it is you’re studying.
Now, that being said, some people do enjoy complexity for its own sake. They remind me of a cartoon my father (a professor of limnology) kept on his door for years. It was professor telling his student: “Smith, this dissertation of yours is the biggest bucket of sesquipedalian tergiversation this old eyes have ever seen!”
My goal in life is to write half as well about complex topics as Ray Bradbury did. I strongly suggest, for anyone not acquainted with this straightforward sage, beginning with the collection “R is for Rocket.”
February 2, 2015 at 1:55 am
Complexity is necessary. But passive voice should be eschewed.
February 4, 2015 at 7:51 pm
I don’t see how this is about complexity at all. That really is a separate issue. Your post is about bad writing, which you started out making the case. Then it got quickly left aside and you constructed an argument instead about substance. Using Stanley’s post as an example, I may not agree with what she has written but at least it is in clear English prose. Badly written prose is just that, bad. Period.
What you’re saying, and suggesting to this reader in fact, is that because a topic is complex it cannot be written plainly. I know you don’t think so, but that’s how your defenses are being perceived.
Anyway, just came upon this blog and I am a follower.
February 12, 2015 at 11:20 pm
Just wanted to let you know I have nominated you for a Liebster Award. You can learn about it here. https://debpalmerauthor.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/yay-we-won-a-liebster-blog-award/
I found your blog to be honest and fresh. Keep up the good work.
March 23, 2015 at 5:47 am
Great perspective on academic writing, Amanda. I enjoyed the post. I must say I am a proponent of Occam’s Razor. I believe the most simple and valid explanation of a theory should prevail whenever possible.
However, I also believe the combination of our increasingly advanced statistical models and extremely specialized research topics have resulted in progressively more intricate findings. And, as scholars, it is our responsibility to present these findings with accuracy and attention to detail.
Today, our findings are inherently complex because our research methodologies and tools have become complex. Therefore, I must agree. Complexity is needed to propel development in all fields from psychology to aerospace. 🙂
January 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm
Absolutely agree that careful research and in-depth reflection are essential to civilization, and I agree that some attacks on academese are really Trojan horses in battles against intellectualism. But you commit the converse sin when you write, “the inherent distrust of scholarly language is, at its heart, a dismissal of academia itself.” I am in the Academy and *I* inherently distrust scholarly language.
A defense of jargon is not a defense of research and reflection. The passages you quote are bad examples of bad academese–they are written in good standard English. Indeed, your own post is written clearly, without pretense or jargon. This enables me to identify what seems to me a flaw in your argument: the conflation of academic writing with academic thinking. We can have a conversation. Clear writing puts your ideas out there, naked, for anyone who can comprehend them to see and converse with, whether those people are academics or not.
January 9, 2015 at 11:59 am
As I think I’ve reiterated — in my post, in these comments and online — this is not a defense simply, of nonclear writing. This is a defense of the well-researched, carefully written, nuanced thinking that academics do, which is often denigrated by the surface, research-less, citation-less “new” ideas promoted in so many viral thinkpieces today. As a Facebook friend, a fellow academic doing work in media studies, smartly noted:
“Oh and the over generalization/under or unresearched thing seems particular to popular and media cultures. I’m sure it happens regarding foreign policy issues too, but when I listen to the radio they bring on real live experts in their fields on to discuss and contextualize, sometimes even more than one! Imagine that. Pop culture – they bring on the media journalists who go off their base impressions and hunches. It drives me batty.”
Media studies is particularly vulnerable to this type of groundless, sweepingly generalized work.
January 8, 2015 at 5:27 pm
While I’ve bailed out of many an article or a conference presentation convinced that the author’s language was obscuring, or even substituting for, their argument, I too share a suspicion over the critiques over academic writing being too difficult to read. A few reasons:
1) Legislation is super hard to read. Software patents are super hard to read. Supreme Court decisions are riddled with jargon. My mother (a dietician) can read the labels on medication and make judgements that I cannot. Specialized language develops around specialized knowledge. Why shouldn’t humanities scholars be afforded the same tools of specialized language and shared pools of reference that nearly every other field employs?
2) The world is a complicated place. Sometimes concepts are unclear, or complex. Writing honestly about those concepts will necessarily be somewhat unclear and complex, even when it successfully moves us toward more or better understanding. To me, that’s still a successful piece of writing. I’ve been reading tons on The Terror after the French Revolution lately, and it’s so confusing and hard to keep track of…but it’s worthwhile to complicate or even muddle a commonsense clarity at times. I’m smarter about this because I now know that I understand less than I thought I did. This was also the value of graduate school to me, I think.
3) Finally–confronting complexity has a value to readers. There was a time when reading The Cat in the Hat was too difficult for all of us. The writing was too complex. The language was unfamiliar. And yet, with the magic of a dictionary or a helpful teacher, wonder of wonders, we were able to adapt ourselves to it. So while I and other reasonable folks will certainly agree that clarity is a value to writing, it’s not the only one, and it shouldn’t be fetishized over all other qualities of writing. And we should remind ourselves of this, even when we find ourselves frustrated with some conference presentation on the concept of the anacoluthon encountered while reading Walden on the city limits of Walden or whatever
related: final section of this piece – https://web.archive.org/web/20110208213912/http://nplusonemag.com/revolt-of-the-elites
January 8, 2015 at 11:33 pm
[…] In Defense of Academic Writing | judgmental observer […]
January 9, 2015 at 9:43 am
This is a terrific and much-needed article. As a theorist of film and media, like you, I’m confronted with the resistance to academic jargon more than most. Few have an interest in biochemistry, and consequently no one’s disdainful of their jargon, whereas most everyone is a fan of some form of media, and so the jargon of media scholars really chafes non-academics (and academics in other fields, too). Look no further than the arms-flailing negative reviews of film theory books on Amazon.
The problem, as I see it, is one of enjoyment. Many academics rightly view jargon as part of the work they do–a kind of tool that takes thinking to a higher level. This is not problematic in itself. The problem emerges when readers unfamiliar with the jargon encounter it as a marker of insular pleasure–an enjoyment that academics are somehow keeping to themselves.
In my own writing, I go out of my way to include jargon, but I also go out of my way to make it accessible–defining words and concepts in clear terms, and offering readers the opportunity to be “on the inside.” Ideally, some will accept the invitation and go further in their studies, seeing for themselves that what academics do–as you deftly explain–is laborious, expert hard work, and not necessarily all that enjoyable.
Related, my article on slang, jargon, and enjoyment, which deals with many of the same issues you raise: http://www.worldpicturejournal.com/World%20Picture/WP_1.1/Manon.html
January 9, 2015 at 10:31 am
I have to jump on the pro-complexity bandwagon here, if not also the pro-jargon bandwagon, because I think there can be an assumption that, while primary texts can obfuscate or require multiple readings, academic prose should be transparent. But I’m not sure that this is always case. There are writers that defend dense prose–prose that needs to be read in both senses of the word–that are theorists, literary scholars, and film scholars. And while a student or critic may not enjoy those particular writers, nonetheless its a bit disingenuous to assume that that the writer is attempting to be difficult for no reason other than professional specialization and hierarchy. In other words, just because I cannot read something easily or well– or I glance at it and think that its jargony–doesn’t make it inherently unreadable, it just means haven’t done the work of reading it.
And this doesn’t mean that there aren’t works of academic prose that use jargon to hide their lack of ideas or consistent scholarship (see, for example, the first four years of my grad career). But there is terrible, terrible poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in the world. Lots of it. But there is also beautiful complex poetry and fiction that takes several readings, which can look at first glance as miserable and dense as someone’s crappy, thoughtless work.
All humanities academic work doesn’t have the same goal. Some, yes, are attempting to clarify and make transparent specific texts. As such, it does seem that readability may be a reasonable goal. But there are some other works in which the complexity of language is part of the work of reading the idea. And, if done well, this is also part of the work.
PS: I am a huge hypocrite here because I personally strive for clarity and transparency in my writing. I am a terrible writer, and I feel like clarity is the last refuge for the awful stylist.
January 9, 2015 at 10:34 am
I really enjoyed this, Amanda. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, and maybe this says more about the scholars I tend to read, but what strikes me about a quite a bit of the academic writing I encounter is how goddamn good it is! When I read, say, Vivian Sobchack, Lesley Stern, Gilberto Perez, or Adrian Martin, I often find passages that are not only clear and concise but gorgeous, filled with beautifully constructed sentences and evocative language. I think media scholars especially are sensitive to matters of style in the objects they study, and often this carries over into the writing. I’m certain that poor writing outnumbers the good, but nonetheless, I think it would be a refreshing exercise to draw attention to well-written scholarship rather than the more common practice of spotlighting that which is jargon-y and pedantic.
January 9, 2015 at 10:04 pm
[…] (and, obviously, writing) about that post after having read Amanda Ann Klein’s blog post “In Defense of Academic Writing,” over at Judgmental Observer. Klein, an academic (or maybe I should just say, someone who […]
January 11, 2015 at 9:16 am
‘1000,000 word academic book’ should probably read 100,000 word academic book …
January 11, 2015 at 1:56 pm
Thanks! I got a million of ’em!
January 28, 2015 at 1:01 pm
January 28, 2015 at 1:05 pm
Reblogged this on iosonestep and commented:
January 28, 2015 at 1:24 pm
Thanks for the post. As a former academic, I now work in the IT world. One thing that I find as a weakness in both worlds is insularity. In IT, people *always* assume that end-users know more than they do. Also, they always miss the main problem and quickly sink to more technical than practical.
Academics, in a similar way, often write without fully understanding their audience. I used to say that the humanities (my area of study) is losing support because they can’t explain their value. We study what’s interesting to us, but can we make it interesting for non-academics? As the numbers show, we have a hard time convincing a family, who is working hard to make ends meet, to pay $60k to send a child to a (relatively cheap) university to hear what we’ve been musing about.
I think successful academic writers understand his or her subject so well, but also understand the interests of the non-academic. Listening to and focusing on one’s audience is key.
Usually, though, the audience is not the public, but peer reviewers. They comb the citations to see if you have cited the “standard” people in the field, but they don’t have the public in mind.
With whom do we want to be in conversation with? Peer reviewers or the public? Our job rank depends on the former, but our relevance with the latter. Lately, I’m breaking out and favoring the latter…
January 28, 2015 at 3:25 pm
You have a good point. For media and public , you have to use an ordinary simple language that the general audience or public can understand. But talking to fellow academics or experts , you have to use more technical terms or jargons.
It depends on the situation and as you said that you can not address all kinds of people in the same way with all respect and appreciation to all people.
January 28, 2015 at 3:31 pm
True. Sometimes I get the impression that they don’t consider writing for the public helpful. One academic told me once, “Writing a blog is a waste of time! In the time it takes you to write that, you could have written 3-4 more peer reviewed articles in a year.”
The idea that writing for more public consumption wastes our time ensures that academia will remain obscure. IMHO every academic needs to learn how to speak both the internal jargon of the field, as well as the straightforward language of broader society.
January 28, 2015 at 3:38 pm
If you have a blog that is monetized and makes money , it is a good investment to write for the public. If you are a journalist , it pays back.
If you do not deal with the public and you work in a research center or a laboratory where you do not need to address the public, off coarse , it would be better to write few peer into depth article than write for the public . I think it depends.
If interested , my website is http://www.ecohorizons.wordpress.com
January 28, 2015 at 1:27 pm
Reblogged this on Perpetual Revision and commented:
Excellent analysis — makes a a good case for the rhetorical purpose of academic writing.
January 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm
Reblogged this on افضل شركات الشحن فى مصر.
January 28, 2015 at 1:38 pm
Interesting 🙂 🙂
January 28, 2015 at 2:42 pm
Reblogged this on trambnb.
January 28, 2015 at 2:47 pm
Lots to think about here!
January 28, 2015 at 2:55 pm
I agree lots to think about. On a different path, is anyone else irritated by the excessive use of “more” as in “more happy” instead of happier? This drives me up the wall. http://lilypupslife.wordpress.com/
January 28, 2015 at 4:00 pm
“But the internet has created the scholarship of the pastless present, where a subject’s history can be summed up in the last thinkpiece that was published about it, which was last week. And last week is, of course, ancient history.”
All the more reason, if an academic is writing for broad consumption and for other academics, is to state their position is grounded in proof of past evidence. And of course, reference the evidence in end notes/ foot notes.
Decreased interest or diligence in careful research of relevant published works, is becoming more and more evident to those in the library profession.
January 28, 2015 at 4:16 pm
Brilliant! Will be reading to my husband and at the end of the read plan to say authoritatively, ‘Checkmate.”
January 28, 2015 at 5:23 pm
Hīņa tœq şawæ jû. Fåttô tőna kørgî teň. Rēzôssà tý koňa. 😉
January 28, 2015 at 5:41 pm
Really interesting read. Thank you.
I wrote a 50,000-word thesis once and remember my supervisor telling me that my writing needed to be more technical. Only after padding it out with more jargon was it met with approval. I think academia is partly to blame for its poor image.
If the subject matter is truly interesting and thought provoking, it would only be doing justice to the research to make the writing equally interesting and thought provoking. At least, it couldn’t hurt, right?
January 28, 2015 at 6:02 pm
Reblogged this on coastalpaths.
January 28, 2015 at 10:10 pm
Reblogged this on Queen-V.
January 29, 2015 at 1:44 am
Very thought-provoking. I do research in one area (organizational theory) where jargon and word-heavy sentences are the norm, but also in another (leisure studies) where clear, simple, declarative writing is standard. I have learned a lot from working in both areas, and the overall quality of my writing has improved as a result. As you rightly point out, complexity has its role in academic writing and shouldn’t be downplayed or insulted just because it doesn’t speak to certain audiences.
January 29, 2015 at 3:19 am
I think that if you can not summarize your latest research project in 140 characters then you don’t have a clear idea what you’re working on. I believe more Twitter use would do academia much good.
Writing clear documents does not mean avoiding long words. It means creating a text that can be read without a head-ache. And a text that you will understand yourself when reading it 10 years from now. Having your audience in mind is absolutely necessary when writing. But I have a feeling many academic writers write for their own narrow group of specialists, and not for a broader group of readers related to their field.
Plus, within an academic text there are different sections that ideally should be written on different “levels”. The abstract usually has a different purpose, structure and language than the methods section. So its not just the length of the text, its also what part of the text that matters.
January 29, 2015 at 3:30 am
Reblogged this on bozamkoffi.
January 29, 2015 at 3:52 am
Reblogged this on badourimhmd.
January 29, 2015 at 5:19 am
Good observations. .. Hey, just take easy on the bashing…
January 29, 2015 at 7:16 am
Reblogged this on oruba.M.Farraj.
January 29, 2015 at 7:37 am
Reblogged this on reneferretsays.
January 29, 2015 at 7:44 am
January 29, 2015 at 9:06 am
Perhaps too many view complexity as a bad thing because we have been trained to boil things down to the simplest we can. In the case of academic writing, simplicity is but an over-simplification and undermining of the academic subject.
January 29, 2015 at 9:22 am
We should look back first. What were the biggest works of the 19th century? Kant, Marx, Hegel, or even Nietzsche are not highly appraised for their thought, but their literary style was almost catastrophic. They were all constantly jumping back to Aristotle and Plato, making quotations in Greek and Latin, and talking about almost everything that came across their mind. Well, in comparison with them, contemporary academic writing seems more than polished to me, almost an informal conversation with a good beer in my hand. I can jump to a different area, and familiarize myself in the jargon and terminology in a matter of weeks. I can also appreciate the work of the scientists who try to popularize their areas. Another bonus. And then, I can always check some documentary that explains the subject even closer. So no, academic writing is not the problem here. Rather, the problem is the assumption of independence and the attempt to separate scientist from the topic he or she researches. This is what makes the current science a joke, especially when they deploy a statistic.
January 29, 2015 at 10:31 am
January 29, 2015 at 11:21 am
Reblogged this on Searching For Truth and commented:
My academic colleagues need to read this! Why do I fear sending it to them?
January 29, 2015 at 11:50 am
Good post! I know how it feels with academic profs as I am on the second 2 of “fighting” with my supervisor for the words in my Law PhD thesis! 😀
January 29, 2015 at 5:30 pm
Reblogged this on The words of Truth.
January 29, 2015 at 10:24 pm
Well written and thought provoking… Never really saw details from that perspective… I suppose each form of writing is a necessary evil if you will..
January 30, 2015 at 1:39 am
I love what you’ve written here because you’ve turned some of my opinions on academia around. For the reasons that you’ve stated in your introductory paragraphs, I dislike academia, especially for someone who’s impatient with long words and papers like me (haha). But I agree with your point that the quick-and-dirty reads that populate Facebook feeds tend to lack depth. They also don’t stay in my mind very long, either. The expertise that academia equips scholars with is the real brain “nourishment” that is of real value. Thanks for writing this.
January 30, 2015 at 2:29 am
Reblogged this on fablesofkashepherd and commented:
I love this.
January 30, 2015 at 5:17 am
Reblogged this on Am I Write?!.
January 30, 2015 at 8:50 am
Its either well done. Or it sucks. I had a philosophy professor tell me a thousand years ago that if i could not explain something clearly i did not truely understand it. Like defining a word with itself or other words that need definition before reading the definition. Nicely done.
January 30, 2015 at 10:14 am
January 30, 2015 at 11:50 am
i think what you are saying here is- write thoughtfully, do research. and i think everyone is capable of that, not just people in academia. Writing is at the heart of what you’re writing about. writing can further our society, writing is the idea behind action; you’re gonna want people to write carefully. i approach writing as Feeling first- what parts of the brain gets turned on by what is read? i think change happens here, more than verbiage, more than letters. how to Make people see where your coming from. this includes your emphasis on Hedging, for example. i agree w/ that. but i think i actually like your ‘ethics of the instant’ phrase. that’s big now b/c people want that and i think writing can answer that need and still be nuanced and researched. just make sure it isn’t boring, filled with words you don’t Feel, phrases that don’t move you. it’s got to have some music, that’s where the Arts in Literature happens. a problem with academia is it is the go-to model for all our social systems and that’s been very harmful at times (early psychotherapy, race relations). when smart people who have an agenda can write eloquently and critically about something And they have an automatic platform- that can be dangerous. it silences potentially great voices because if you are not a part of academia you are not taken seriously, or it’s harder to be.
and why is a national discussion happening focusing on black actors and actresses in hollywood and ‘the biz’ and not one that recognizes today’s front lines activist movements instead? hollywood is just movies- it’s always been pretty far removed from real life and struggle and gets more so every year; just a money-fueled distorted image. let’s put the focus less on industries, more on communities, academia included.
January 30, 2015 at 1:49 pm
Reblogged this on Eva's Place and commented:
I get many comments on my English or grammar or spelling all of the time. I laugh a lot because I usually catch my n own right as I hit the update button. Then I get comments on why did I get so many copies of your update? Sometimes you just pick the better of the evils and let it go. What do you think?
January 30, 2015 at 3:25 pm
Reblogged this on Casa de Ortega.
January 30, 2015 at 10:55 pm
That’s one extreme, but notice that even college grads and administrators of large corporations can’t even string a few simple sentences together into a properly written paragraph! That’s the other extreme. Why does it have to be one extreme or the other? What ever happened to teaching children how to read and write, and use correct grammar? Remember diagraming sentences? I doubt today’s teachers have ever heard of it…so what exactly DO they learn when they’re in so-called Education classes is not what to teach, and how to teach it?
January 31, 2015 at 9:41 am
And this is exactly where I struggle with blogging. I’m new to the blogging world and am trying to find that balance. Let’s face it, no one can write a well researched, thought out blog every day unless writing is their full time gig – which it’s not for most of us.
January 31, 2015 at 9:48 am
Well I didn’t mean to reply to your comment, but now that I’m here: if you think teachers are doing such a shitty job, maybe you should go teach. I’ll bet all the current teachers are just doing it for the money and the fame.
January 30, 2015 at 11:47 pm
Reblogged this on In Through A Coloured Lens.
January 30, 2015 at 11:47 pm
Reblogged this on shyam's Blog.
January 31, 2015 at 5:56 am
Reblogged this on ttaggroup's Blog.
January 31, 2015 at 6:12 am
Reblogged this on UnilagLss.
January 31, 2015 at 6:16 am
A wonderful article
January 31, 2015 at 9:30 am
That’s one of the problems with blogging, if there is one. A strong opinion on a topic does not an acedemic make. I think actual academic writing is losing ground, at least in ratio to opinion pieces. Its really hard to find articles by actual experts on any given topic anymore…
January 31, 2015 at 1:22 pm
Reblogged this on Maasai Mara University Official Blogging Site and commented:
Writing is passing knowledge
January 31, 2015 at 1:41 pm
Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had.
January 31, 2015 at 2:31 pm
Reblogged this on rahul01031993's Blog.
January 31, 2015 at 7:54 pm
I have always valued the significance of complex thought and its portrayal in writing. Philosophy pieces first sparked my interest in pondering an idea deeply enough to investigate (and maybe make a few unintentional 360 degree thought circles to confirm your original allegation) before my interest grew from thought to academic writing. This was most likely the result of a writing extensive college education in psychology where research papers make up most of your GPA. I extensively enjoy writing and value complexity, but when I took my first research writing class, I certainly cringed. However, it made me realize what you emphasized.. it’s importance in overall growth. I enjoyed your post, thanks for taking the time.
January 31, 2015 at 8:01 pm
There is also that case with a website called mathgen which randomly generates math papers which look impressive to nonmathematicians but is actually a load of nonsense. Somebody generated a paper, sent it to an “academic” journal and it was accepted. However sometimes what may seem as pedantic phrasing to some, Is actually simple to others. Notation is notation, nothing more. We could designate a cat drawing as meaning angry. What are more important are ideas. I don’t think fussing about this is of much importance. Please visit my blog nerdmath.wordpress.com for my thoughts on math in education 🙂
February 1, 2015 at 9:41 am
Reminds me of grad school when my advisor told me my writing was too clear and easy to understand and to change my style. LOL Good thing I didn’t listen.
February 1, 2015 at 11:24 am
Reblogged this on serendel.
February 1, 2015 at 12:40 pm
Reblogged this on The Interpreting Report.
February 1, 2015 at 12:45 pm
I love love love this article! Wonderfully argued, appropriately nuanced and readable. I agree 100%. Note that when chemists use specialized language to describe their work or when lawyers use technical legal language they are recognized for their specialized language. But somehow if you’re doing academic research you’re supposed to describe it at an 8th grade reading level? Look, I think clarity in research writing is important, too, but the popularity of bashing academic writing has become a noisy bandwagon.
February 1, 2015 at 2:40 pm
Reblogged this on Robyn Hildebrand and commented:
An interesting piece. Gives true meaning to don’t believe everything you read.
February 2, 2015 at 2:01 am
I think it is hard to talk about this subject without seeming pompous or crass because there are different worlds of expectation for writing. Academic writing can seem ponderous and trivial at the same time when the writer wants to take a “shortcut to seriousness”. All the same, I am rather attracted to books that are reviewed on Amazon as “incomprehensible”, “larded with jargon” and “beyond the common man”. I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe I’m a pompous ass.
February 2, 2015 at 12:11 pm
Reblogged this on naldy196's Blog.
February 2, 2015 at 6:11 pm
Reblogged this on mdgoodluck.
February 2, 2015 at 7:08 pm
Reblogged this on tamannabeesblog.
February 2, 2015 at 7:09 pm
I loved reading this!
February 2, 2015 at 8:41 pm
Thank you for writing this. I often curtail my writing and my speaking to avoid the accusation of pedantry or pompousness. Alternatively, I get “that’s deep”, and the conversation ends there.
That is not as woeful as it sounds. There is a valuable lesson there.
What I have learned from those instances is that packaging is central to apprehension. I think some academics don’t heed this truism because their intention is not to reach the most amount of people, contrary to what you seem to say here.
I agree that most academics don’t purposefully convolute their papers to appear erudite; however, I disagree that most academics want to spread their work as far as possible.
In writing, ubiquitously, we are taught to mind our audience. I think most academics solely have their colleagues in mind when they write. Rightly so! They have to make a living too, and it’s “publish or perish” in the Ivory Tower.
Financial integrity notwithstanding, I think more academics should want to permeate those ivory walls and share their learning with the outside world. Granted this varies from discipline to discipline, and the culture is shifting away from insularity and toward accessibility.
Maybe every academic should be obligated to make blog posts ;]
You may not get to this message, but the thought occurred to me.
January 8, 2016 at 5:22 pm
Yes! More popular rhetoric….many profs have sold fair numbers of books, and some of those books have been good ones…
February 3, 2015 at 1:22 am
Reblogged this on Little Deduction.
February 3, 2015 at 1:37 am
Reblogged this on My Literary Commonplace.
February 3, 2015 at 4:03 am
Thank you very much for this CLEAR bit of prose! I agree with the entire article – the beginning with incomprehensible academic-style papers has been on my mind since I learnt to read roughly! But on the other hand I’d like to be a member of the academia myself so thank you for reassuring me proving us that all academese aren’t necessary the same and that the goal for some of them isn’t to be as vague and as opaque as possible!
February 3, 2015 at 3:22 pm
Reblogged this on fermeduchateau.
February 3, 2015 at 3:59 pm
Shouldn’t all writing be concise and direct? I’ve always been told to “Keep It Simple, Stupid”
February 3, 2015 at 7:26 pm
Reblogged this on nilpojapoti.
February 3, 2015 at 9:26 pm
You had me at “solipsistic.”
February 10, 2015 at 2:38 pm
I still believe what I wrote but this am working on this and found it pretty hilariously on point re: this conversation
February 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm
Yeah also that may be NSFW, if you work with high school students or something.
February 11, 2015 at 8:25 am
Reblogged this on literarymarge and commented:
Here is an interesting account of how academics’ phrasing may be complicated although they strongly believe they are being perfectly clear. The barriers of comprehension may often come across someone’s speech, should it be a friend, a member of our family, a lecturer…
I think that what shouldn’t be forgotten is that the aim of communication is to understand and be understood. Sometimes giving too much information doesn’t help us grabbing the point while sometimes being deprived of data prevents us from getting there. I suppose BALANCE is a delicate notion that makes the aim all the more difficult to reach. Time and experience vs. common sense? Not sure of who’s going to win the battle…
February 12, 2015 at 5:20 am
[…] Judgement Observer – https://judgmentalobserver.com/2015/01/08/in-defense-of-academic-writing/ […]
February 14, 2015 at 7:25 am
If I tell you what you know the way you know I accomplish nothing. In my scholarly writing I show both sides of the coin: technical expressions and its ‘definition’ in non technical writing. At the same time I leave space for consideration and debate. Great article. Thank you.
February 14, 2015 at 6:07 pm
Reblogged this on Welcome to Fisidinho's Blog.
February 15, 2015 at 5:10 am
Reblogged this on Sugbo.
February 15, 2015 at 8:54 am
Reblogged this on ajayadance.
February 15, 2015 at 6:19 pm
Reblogged this on Beyond Your Thinking and commented:
What do you think?
February 16, 2015 at 11:59 pm
Reblogged this on The Broken Muse and commented:
Worth a read. We do have a purpose.
February 17, 2015 at 1:42 am
The word “subterfuge” was necessary here? : ) This was a great article.
February 18, 2015 at 2:11 am
Reblogged this on theaspiringcaffeinatedlibrarian.
February 18, 2015 at 11:16 pm
Reblogged this on Imperfect Writer: My Journey to Finding Myself.
February 20, 2015 at 5:33 pm
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February 21, 2015 at 10:04 am
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February 23, 2015 at 4:33 am
February 26, 2015 at 6:29 am
Reblogged this on LUWAGGA ALLAN.
March 12, 2015 at 9:04 am
Reblogged this on and commented:
So good. Yet another reason we are doing what we’re doing at the Drawing Board. We study. We think. We are nuanced in our writing. This is what we do.
April 13, 2015 at 12:17 am
Reblogged this on Web Of The Free.
June 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm
[…] In defense of academic writing […]
November 8, 2015 at 12:37 pm
Hello! Yes, the implication here is that academics are always trying to make things — a movie, a poem, themselves and their writing — appear more important than they actually are. These pieces also argue that academics dress simple concepts up in big words in order to exclude those… By the way the best paper writing service that I saw: http://speedypaper.net/
January 5, 2016 at 9:17 am
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 5, 2016 at 10:37 am
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 5, 2016 at 10:45 am
I agree 100%
January 5, 2016 at 10:46 am
good luck with America
January 5, 2016 at 10:46 am
or just good luck
sorry no ofens
January 5, 2016 at 1:30 pm
I had to take a class on literary theory once upon a time. At the end of it all, I liked the class, but my biggest complaint was the fact that many writers made their writing…inaccessible. Even my professor had difficulty dissecting text. I came out of that class a better reader than before, but I still wish that some academic writers could explain their points more concisely. The academic community might actually benefit from more ideas if it didn’t have to argue about what an author’s point is.
January 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm
Concision and precision is the soul of good informative writing. John Donne thought it so, and time has not changed his observation.
January 5, 2016 at 3:21 pm
[…] Sumber: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 5, 2016 at 4:43 pm
After I graduated from school, it took me so long, so very long to learn how to write in a simple, understandable language that people of different levels will be able to comprehend. I do agree that a huge amount of academic researches come using a seemingly “French” language and I knew as an academic myself back then that “if you can’t explain your idea to a 5-year-old, that means you don’t understand it yourself” Einstein. Nice article!
January 5, 2016 at 8:15 pm
[…] https://judgmentalobserver.com/2015/01/08/in-defense-of-academic-writing/ […]
January 5, 2016 at 9:22 pm
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing « judgmental observer […]
January 5, 2016 at 11:38 pm
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 6, 2016 at 1:45 am
Thanks for sharing this brilliant piece of article!
January 6, 2016 at 5:00 am
January 6, 2016 at 5:01 am
Reblogged this on https://top10casusuygulamalar.wordpress.com/
January 6, 2016 at 8:08 am
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 6, 2016 at 2:48 pm
Reblogged this on lawoptrics.
January 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm
Wow! Magnificent piece! Definitely reblogging
January 6, 2016 at 6:05 pm
Well written piece! Really appreciate the effort
January 7, 2016 at 8:30 am
Reblogged this on sumedhsbureau.
January 7, 2016 at 9:15 am
Wow. This article was so incredibly thorough! I’m relatively new to the whole blogging scene, and have been reading (and writing) constantly about the idea that academic writing is a college phenomenon that needs be packed away when writing for a large Internet-based audience. But so much of what I read online, much like the BuzzFeed article you mention, is written in such a way as to attempt to dive deep into a specific topic while maintaining mass appeal; and it just doesn’t work. I enjoy BuzzFeed for what it was built upon: silly listicles used to pass the time while you wait for your train. But by packing such a hugely layered topic such as race in the entertainment industry (or any industry, for that matter) into a semi-shortform article is counter-intuitive. Like you said, it probably had to do with a writer having to rush a piece out on deadline. But it just makes it come off as an afterthought, rather than what it could have been if tackled from an academic point of view: a hard-hitting, insightful commentary on race in the world of entertainment.
I’ll always be a firm believer that academic writing has its place. I always enjoyed writing college papers (crazy, right?) because it gave me a chance to think about what I wanted to say, and then say it in such an eloquent way that my words were hard to ignore. But I also understand why academic writing is panned by many: it simply doesn’t have mass appeal. So, maybe the trick is to lure in a mass audience with “everyday” writing, get them interested in your topic, and then throw in some longform thought pieces? I don’t know.
In any case, this entry has given me a lot to think about! Thanks!
January 7, 2016 at 12:55 pm
[…] In Defense of Academic Writing, posted on the Judgmental Observer, discusses in great detail the idea that, in a (virtual) land ruled by listicles and short-sighted (or grossly misinformed) op-ed pieces, longform academic writing is more important than ever. […]
January 7, 2016 at 2:37 pm
Don’t u think changes are necessary
January 8, 2016 at 10:04 am
January 8, 2016 at 9:36 pm
Great truths here. I worked for 15 years tutoring college students, helping them decode academese, and introducing them to the value of research and context. My conclusion: It’s worth the time and trouble. Academics do invaluable work that needs to be part of the public dialogue. For example, the arguments from presidential candidates need to be evaluated in a larger sociocultural and historical context–rather than merely placed in a biased political narrative that favors one party or the other. The larger problem, I think, is that Americans distrust experts more than they distrust politicians. How did we get here? We need to shift the culture to not only recognize subject-specific expertise–but to value it and to fear the conversations where it isn’t welcome.
January 9, 2016 at 1:34 pm
Reblogged this on Public Health Nutrition.
January 10, 2016 at 3:16 am
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 10, 2016 at 10:20 pm
Although academics produce work that has value and merit, I find academic works too dense and producers of academic works take too long in getting to the point.
January 12, 2016 at 6:37 am
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
January 13, 2016 at 10:06 am
well, your last jab qua praise at baudrillard in your piece’s final line notwithstanding, really, i think, the matter at hand is who is your audience? pinker basically writes and has written for the b & n hoi polloi, and that’s not a bad thing. the slow accretion of stuff you do is just perhaps that and little more, and so be it. there simply are different registers of reading, and different registers of writing, too. it’s a fair question to ask: who were the “federalist papers” meant to be read by? and by whom, if they are, are they recalled later in mind today, and so forth. besides, the idea of willful obfuscation is sorta inane, yo.
January 14, 2016 at 2:25 am
While we cannot avoid complexity in our academic writings in totality it’s good that we make complex terms easier to be understood by the masses, or what else is academic research work for?? Isn’t it to solve the present day world problems!?
January 18, 2016 at 10:55 am
[…] that really struck a chord with me. One such article, written by The Judgmental Observer, argued in defense of academic writing (something I had argued against early on in my blog’s […]
January 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm
I think this piece is what’s wrong with academia, instead of focusing on the academics that took us from cave dwellers to a modern society, we’re dedicating research money to social studies interpretivism that is about as rooted in fact as phrenology.
What makes academia seem irrelevant is more than just a writing style, there is a reason why people like Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson are mediocre academics but among the best communicators between academia and the masses.
Applicability and economic value has to become more central to academia. Part of that is great communicators, part of that is research worth communicating.
February 8, 2016 at 2:27 pm
[…] Source: In Defense of Academic Writing […]
April 15, 2016 at 6:49 am
Reblogged this on chasmadidgawah.
May 10, 2016 at 6:55 am
Just finished writing a culture studies paper.. First academic paper in years and yes it does take a lot of time to THiNK and read and keep thinking and rummaging around and sitting with all the ideas and possibly links etc. before we can really know what we are trying to say. And often I find new ideas can be really complex to put into words, especially when we don’t always have the words or common phrases to explain our new ideas that are not being used in our language, hence academic writing becoming wordy. Would be nice to see more practical and down to earth writing in academia though! Thanks for the read
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