Clear, simple sentences are best.

3 05 2010

I agree with Rachel Toor (via the Historical Society blog):

By writing prose that is nearly unintelligible not just to the general public, but also to graduate students and fellow academics in your discipline, you are not doing the work of advancing knowledge. And, honestly, you don’t really sound smart. I understand that there are ideas that are so difficult that their expression must be complex and dense. But I can tell you, after years of rejecting manuscripts submitted to university presses, most people’s ideas aren’t that brilliant.

This makes me think of two different but related things:

1) Having turned in my grades today, I’ve been reading a lot of papers lately. As opposed to most professors it seems, I spent much of my time with the graduate student papers trying to get them NOT to sound like academics. I want their ideas to be sophisticated, but their language and especially their sentences to be simple so that they can better explain exactly what they mean.

In fact, I have a tendency to need to follow the same advice myself. I’m writing this post as a break from a book chapter that I’m writing now, and the first time I write anything down it’s always way too complex. When I break it down into clear, simple sentences over time as I rewrite the text, I think the ideas became richer and certainly easier to follow.

2) Toor’s comments also make me think of Dr. Crazy’s insistence that every single word in a conference paper is so important that it can’t be skipped over. If it’s really the ideas, not the language that matters that shouldn’t be true. Besides, listening to a paper full of academic prose has got to be the only thing worse than being assigned to read a paper written the same way.




One response

16 05 2010
Be A Better Article Writer In 3 Easy Steps

[…] Clear, simple sentences are best. « More or Less Bunk […]

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