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Bill Bennett


Better academic writing means better thinking

Students and researchers assume people will think they’re dumb and won’t take their ideas seriously if their academic writing isn’t complex, dense and hard to read.

The problem is real. As Rachel Toor writes, bad writing and bad thinking go hand in hand.

She writes:

I’ve heard that song from graduate students in every discipline, and from faculty members, junior and senior, at universities across the country.

The message: You have to write the same way as others in your field. You must use multisyllabic words, complex phrasing, and sentences that go on for days, because that’s how you show you’re smart. If you’re too clear, if your sentences are too simple, your peers won’t take you seriously.

Let’s turn the idea on its head: Crisp writing is a sign of good thinking. A previous pos covers this: Good writing is direct, clear and precise. It is also unambiguous.

Much of Toor’s piece is about passive language.  She is rightly to condemn it. There is far too much passive language in academic writing. Scientists and engineers sometimes need to use the passive voice, but the active voice is better most of the time..

She pulled much of the remainder or her piece from an  essay by George Orwell.

Academics need to read this. For the rest of us it is a wake up call.

See Bad Writing and Bad Thinking – Do Your Job Better – The Chronicle of Higher Education



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