ON ACADEMIC WRITING
I always start writing these things and I never know where they are going. Every time I sit down with a clear plan of what I want to write about it always divulges into something entirely different and often incoherent. That annoys me because as someone who would ideally like a career in academia, I need to be able to produce without everything I write turning into an episode of The Simpsons on LSD.
That annoys me because as someone who would ideally like a career in academia, I need to be able to produce without everything I write turning into an episode of The Simpsons on LSD.
My thought patterns have never necessarily been linear, in fact a large number of my friends become shocked when I’m able ascertain an entirely different implication from what seem to be open and shut scenarios. That I think is one of my stronger suits — the ability to dig deeper into a situation and uncover underlying implications. How does this relate to writing? The truth is I don’t really know. All I know is that whenever I am trying to write an academic paper it always gets jumbled up with unnecessary jargon and I become frustrated when I can’t convey what I’m trying to explain.
I once went to visit a professor in their office hours. I went in fully expecting said professor to be sitting at their desk and perhaps reading or typing on their laptop. Instead, I found them with a highlighter sticking out of their mouth; cross legged on the floor with notes scattered all over the room. There was no rush to clean up when I came in; they merely pointed to an unoccupied chair and promptly took their own seats, as though pieces of processed trees were not sticking onto the soles of our feet. While my questions were largely answered on the course materials, I left those office hours with many more in my head. As aesthetically pleasing as the notes were, there was a certain appealing organized chaos vibe to them as well. How is it possible to produce something when you work like that?
While my questions were largely answered on the course materials, I left those office hours with many more in my head.
I came to the realization that the professor had likely developed, from years of work experience, a system that worked for them. It is probable that they faced similar issues as I and tried different methods of writing until they found the right fit. What seemed to not make sense to me, seemed to work without error for them. I couldn’t wrap my head around how they worked as such, so I did what I am assuming no one other than me would have done: I tried it out for myself.
I got myself a few different shades of sticky notes, a notepad, and different colour pens. While these are usual items in my stationary, they’ve never really been used properly nor efficiently. I tried to mimic the professor by putting my own thoughts on the sticky notes and highlighting specific parts of my notes or the writings of others in order to quickly be able to identify what I would need when writing my own papers. It took some getting used to, the fact that the methodology of taking notes was much more different and mainly on the ground made it uncomfortable for a bit — but then I realized how much more I enjoyed researching.
I realized from this experiment that there were a lot of other problems I had with writing as well.
I realized from this experiment that there were a lot of other problems I had with writing as well. I’ve always been frustrated with academic jargon. My parents always tell me that each industry has their own set of words they use to communicate, or words that directly involve things they want to accomplish. I’ve been reading academic papers for three years now, and I still can’t figure out what the academic team wants to accomplish. It doesn’t make sense to me that, if you want people to read what you have put out and understand it; that you would write in a manner that indicates only people who are as mastered in jargon as you, the writer, would understand.
My own writing, as evidence here, is not the most clear and I tend to compensate my own insecurities with it by using unnecessarily convoluted sentences and ignoring basic grammar rules. I also use a lot of commas (there is no reason associated with insecurity with this one). So I don’t really think I have a right to say academics need to make their writing more accessible. That said, as a student I’ve read some pretty difficult authors, and I think for the benefit of instructors and students alike it would be a good idea for academics to consider the words they use in their papers. That’s not to say that I think because whatever unknown portion of my tuition is funding them, ergo they should be working to benefit me — though this is in some sense also a valid argument. I think it is necessary for academia to become more accessible in terms of language for the benefit of people who do not have access to education that will allow them to understand jargon, students who someday may work to develop ideas written by said academics, and the general public that do not work in the fields in which academics write that could benefit from the knowledge that the academics are sharing through their papers.
I think it is necessary for academia to become more accessible.
One comment without a doubt I’ve heard in tutorials has always been whether the author is a clear writer or not. For a long time I thought it was mainly about sentence structures; but later I came to realize that many of us were actually commenting on lack or abundance of jargon in readings. It seems difficult to understand at first, but the human brain is capable of correcting sentences and understanding them given the correct tools: words they are familiar with. Similarly, it seems more common for students to do readings of authors who write in simple terms, because there is less of a chance that they will be frustrated that they do not understand what the author is trying to convey.
Learning is not linear, and there are many ways we can encourage people to do it; but we need to ensure we are also providing those tools and instructions on how to use them.