Andy Hawthorne

Why academic writing sucks

Academic writing is overblown and hard to read. Here's why...

The wordy, verbose garbage that those in academia produce is not good writing. That’s because it’s not reader friendly.

By academic writing, I mean the style used to write research papers, thesis’s and other collegiate writing.

Why is it written like that? Why is it written in such a way that you have to be an academic to read it?

I’m basing this on the experience of reading blog posts and documentation written by those that have been to college or university.

It seems to me that we are doing young people a dis-service if we are teaching them to write in a manner that nobody wants to read. Or with a style that people find difficult to read.

It raises the question: what’s the point of writing if you are going to write like that?

Here are the things I often see in academic writing:

I’m not suggesting all your sentences should be short. That would be weird. A better technique is to vary the length of your sentences. It creates a natural flow. And it makes your writing easier to read.

I remember when I was studying for my A-Levels at school. I wrote an essay that had all the facts covered. I got a low grade for it, though. That was because my teacher found it hard to read.

My dad was attending a report writing course at the time. He showed me some of the notes. One thing that stood out to me was the need to write with ABC:

It has stuck with me ever since. Write accurately, short and to the point and with clarity.

I wish I had a copy of those notes. I’d hand them to every former (or current) student whose writing is inflicted upon me.

You see the same problem in business writing too. I suspect for the same reason: business people are (mostly) college or university educated these days.

I’m not on my own on this either. The Plain English Campaign  say this:

It's not 'cat sat on the mat’ or 'Janet and John' writing. Almost anything − from leaflets and letters to legal documents − can be written in plain English without being patronising or oversimplified.

Yeah, what they said.

There’s one author who’s work I particularly enjoy for this reason. That author would be Ernest Hemingway. His style would be met with approval from the Plain English campaign.

Here’s one of his quotes about writing:

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

Ernest Hemingway

Yeah, what he said.

The thing is: with a bit of effort, you can pair down your writing to make it easy to read. Verbose waffle serves nobody well, least of all your readers.