Academia undermines its advocacy with awful writing

Science and academics: please learn to write. Your advocacy will benefit.

Right now I’m reading a “how to fix the problem” article at The Conversation (it’d be unfair to pick out just one example of awful writing there, so I won’t link it).

It’s a master-work of driving the reader away: there’s a 350-word introduction before the real introduction (another 150 words); the passive voice leads nearly every paragraph; and it’s littered with constructions like “seriously discuss the personal and societal entailments”.

Part of The Conversation’s mission is partly to get rid of gatekeepers (journalists and editors) — to let the academic speak, unfiltered, to the outside world (the organisation hates it if a journalist merely quotes from it rather than reposting a whole badly-written article).

The downside is that The Conversation gets rid of gatekeepers, and lets academics show off just how badly they write.

It’s no coincidence that most of the people I know posting social media links to The Conversation are other academics: they know how to plough through the undergrowth, even enjoy it, attributing depth to what’s pedestrian merely because it’s long.

For the rest of us, to academic writers, I say this: your steak isn’t improved by a garden of kale on top. If you can say it in 300 words, do. You’ll be a better advocate, because you’ll get more readers.