Re: Academic Pomposity

Subject: Re: Academic Pomposity
From: Susan Brown <sbrown -at- JSCSYS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 1997 09:56:38 -0500

At 11:25 AM 3/3/97 -0500, you wrote:
>>>Dan Wise said: Robert P. commented on the awful, pompous, stuffy, dense
>style adopted by many academics. I received a sample copy a couple of
>years ago of a scholarly journal for the technical communication
>field.... This was one of the stuffiest and most pompous journals I
>have ever seen. I queried the editor and was told something to the
>effect that this style was "expected" in scholarly journals.<<

Aye! There's the rub .........

I am continually amazed at the poor quality of academic writing. All
of the things we have learned to avoid like the plague (3rd person, passive
voice, convoluted sentence structure, excess verbage) proliferate.

But you also see the same thing in government reports, legal briefs,
computer documentation, cookbooks, business letters ........ Somehow, a
majority of people in this world have come to believe that writing to impart
information requires distance, equivocation, humourlessness, and at least 2
levels of indirection. ('It is important that you insure that the water
achieves a full and rolling boil before attempting to cook the pasta.')

There are exceptions, though. One of my all-time favorite writers is
Carolyn Heilbrun. An English professor at Columbia University, her literary
criticism is both insightful and highly readable. (See Hamlet's Mother and
Other Women for a survey of her work over 20 or 25 years).

This is why I dispair at many of the currents trends in education.
The skills and techniques required to effectively communicate ideas and
information are glossed over, or completely ignored. The people who are
produing the academic papers, the reports, etc. etc. have never been shown
how to communicate an idea. The amount of bad writing is growing, and those
of us who believe that grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and writing style are
important are written off as pedants, or elitists.

Off my little soap box now. We return you to your regularly
scheduled program.

Susan Brown
JSC Systems

"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you
come to the end: then stop."
- Lewis Carroll

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