Our posts on the process of writing well proved popular with our readers again this year. Here are our top five most read pieces on academic writing.
Drawing on George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”, Lewis Spurgin discusses the bad habits prevalent in science writing. He argues the imitative and pretentious nature of how scientists write science papers acts as a barrier to access and to thinking critically. Science is about finding the truth and making sense of things and an essential part of this is communicating clearly and honestly. Scientists of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your pretentious diction!
Attempts to measure the value of academic writing in formal assessments have been profoundly damaging both to thought and academic literature, argues Les Back. The value of academic writing is in how it encourages thinking and dialogue with largely anonymous interlocutors and any attempt to audit and rank this process is fated to misguided guesswork.
While it may be true that academics are sometimes prone to dense, jargon-laden prose, this is not for lack of trying, but rather part and parcel of the complexity of conveying both clarity and accuracy of sophisticated ideas. Rachael Cayley applauds a recent piece written by Peter Elbow on why it is legitimately hard to accomplish the essential goal of clarity in academic writing. Academics should not lose hope in their ability to reach a coherent version for wider audiences and the simple exercise of reading aloud may help overcome many of the issues.
The process of writing-up one’s fieldwork data can be daunting for even the most seasoned researcher. Bob Simpson and Robin Humphrey discuss the Writing Across Boundaries initiative, which is aimed at supporting early career researchers who are seeking to engage more effectively with the practical and intellectual issues involved in social science writing.
The practice of academic writing has a tendency to be viewed as a pathological condition – with certain behaviour, like writing for extended periods of time, listed as particularly harmful. But Pat Thomson doesn’t think this prescriptive approach gives enough credit to academic writers who are more competent at finding a writing framework that suits them than this limiting diagnostic approach implies.