A piece in today’s Times Higher, on the flaws of academic writing styles, struck a chord with me. It says:
If you have ever needlessly added the term “Foucauldian” to a journal article or bludgeoned readers by starting an epic sentence with reference to the “post-Mendel application of Lamarck’s apparently superseded scientific theory by non-empirical social scientists”, then you have followed the trend for “wordy, wooden, weak-verbed” writing that dominates academic prose.
When editing text from scientists I seem to be forever adding verbs to sentences, or teasing apart dense clusters of adjectival nouns. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me, so it was nice to see that I am not alone in struggling to read that kind of writing.
Of course when you are trying to boil down a 3,000 word article into a thick 1500 syrup, for Nature or similar, then the style can end up spare and unforgiving. Authors burn off any excess verbiage in order to meet the demands of the prestige journal.
When you are unconstrained by word limits, though, why not try putting back some of those missing connecting words that aid comprehension. Strive for sentences in the style
The cat sat on the mat
Avoid what the Times Higher article describes as “dull titles, formulaic structures, dull, passive prose and multisyllabic, abstract nouns.