RE: Level of writing

Subject: RE: Level of writing
From: "Dick Margulis" <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, cah_91 -at- yahoo -dot- com
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 100 08:27:11 -0500

It depends. <g>

I spend five years doing production work on scholarly journals. The people at the top of their respective fields, doing the most important work, as a rule, wrote eloquently, fluidly, using a respectful but not overly formal tone, addressing the reader in second person when that made sense, using folksy analogies when that helped clarify a point.

The younger, less secure, less important contributors, as a rule, wrote stilted, passive, third-person, convoluted, impenetrable prose.

Some of this broke down along disciplinary lines, influenced greatly by the editors of the journals. The Comparative Education Review, for example, seemed to operate under the assumption that a four-syllable word was always preferable to a one-syllable word and a paragraph consisting of three 250-word complex sentences was always preferable to a series of shorter paragraphs consisting of simpler sentences. I always had the impression these people were concealing the fact that they had nothing interesting to say.

On the other hand, the American Journal of Human Genetics was edited to be clear and succinct, despite the fact that the subject matter was intricately subtle and complex and of much greater importance to the advancement of human knowledge than anything in CER.

So when an academic tells me that academic writing is "supposed to be that way," I try to consider the source.

Just my .02


PS: Yes I know about the date problem. No, I can't do anything about it. Yes, I've logged the issue with my ISP.

Chris Hamilton wrote:

>I worked for a guy with an academic background once
and we had a long discussion about approaches to the
documentation. He was uncomfortable with the approach
I took (second person, active voice, etc.), which I
thought was silly.

But he said that in the academic world, third person
and passive voice are important because they convey a
detachment that shows objectivity. I'm no expert in
academic writing, but I also have no reason to doubt

I can disagree with him all I want, but if writing
what I think is correct is going to get my work
ignored or taken less than seriously, what good have I

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