1. 10

  2. 8

    The first point is “get to the point” and it’s 8 paragraphs in.

    To get there, I had to read past how the author considers themselves “more employable than a literature major” in a (paragraph–/;sentence) that I ran out of breath while reading. Twice.

    I’m not sure what the second and third points are, or if there’s a lesson here at all.

    Edit: grammar

    1. 2

      Not saying the essay is a masterpiece but it’s not an academic paper so the given advice doesn’t directly apply.

    2. 5

      I recently read The Sense of Style by Pinker and he makes a lot of similar points in the first part of the book.

      He talks about the bad introductions that don’t work for either target audience and also about “meta discourse” where papers talk about what they are going to talk about.

      I think that book does a good job of diving more deeply into similar problems seen in writing by experts. “Professional narcissism” was a fun idea where experts get fascinated about the specifics of their profession that seemed important to their journey but aren’t actually important to your audience.

      He then spends a full chapter on curse of knowledge which makes it hard for experts to imagine not knowing something and that makes it hard for them to write well for their readers.

      The OP is def right about the issues with academic writing but I think the issue is broader in experts writing in general.

      1. 4

        If you can estimate the sin of an author, you must estimate the cos of an reviewer. Cos reviewers skim the intro. Cos reviewers desire which section says what. Cos reviewer hunt the main results of the paper. They are two sides of the same angle.

        1. 3

          That is a terrible pun, and made me laugh aloud, but it’s a good point: a lot of the problems with authors are because of incentives set up by reviewers. If you write a paper that explains things clearly in a way that makes them easy for the reader to understand then you are guaranteed at least one reviewer who says that this is simple and obvious and not a sufficient contribution to the field to merit acceptance. If you make the writing approachable, one reviewer will complain that you are not writing in a sufficiently formal style.

          If journals wanted to actually justify their publication costs, they should employ professional copyeditors to turn the turgid prose into something human-readable.

        2. 1

          I wasn’t aware you could calculate the sin of an author. Are there additional formulas for the cos and tan?

          But more seriously: a lot of what the author complains about is the result of applying pretty standard guidelines of composition (intro/topic statement, “tell them what you’re going to tell them”, etc.). Are they being misapplied, or at least imperfectly applied, in many of these cases? Yes, but that’s because they’re being applied by amateurs – it’s likely that none of the people writing these are actually professional writers. And I’d bet money that their training for this consists entirely of maybe a seminar or workshop in grad school where a bunch of oversimplified “rules” for how to write a paper were presented and now they’re just rote-following those rules.

          This is something I also see plenty of in tech conference presentations – you can always tell who has no idea about public speaking and is just reading their slides, who just Googled a basic how-to and is re-enacting exactly what it said, and who has enough experience to actually be comfortable and know which “rules” to follow and which to break (and when and why).