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In Defense of Academic Writing

“So if knowledge-sharing is the mission of the scholar, why would so many of us consciously want to create an environment of exclusion around our writing?”

That is an important question raised by the article (linked at the bottom), that I have just enjoyed reading. It is a well made defense, well written and well argued. There is evidence to support the claims, and strength in the voice. I find myself in agreement with the premise that Academic Writing is important, and that it resists the temporary clothes of fashionable prose.

I especially like this description of the writing process:

“The work I do is nuanced and specific. It requires hours of reading and thinking before a single word is typed. This work is boring at times — at times even dreadful — but it’s necessary for quality scholarship and sound arguments. Because once you start to research an idea — and I mean really research, beyond the first page of Google search results — you find that the ideas you had, those wonderful, catchy epiphanies that might make for a great headline or tweet, are not nearly as sound as you assumed. And so you go back, armed with the new knowledge you just gleaned, and adjust your original claim. Then you think some more and revise. It is slow work, but it’s necessary work. The fastest work I do is the writing for this blog, which as I see as a space of discovery and intellectual growth. I try not to make grand claims for this blog, mostly for that reason.”

This description offers a way to envision this Academic Writing in a context that sees it as work, which I value. And it is slow work at that. What the essay delicately navigates is the concept of genre, which I think of as a strange mixture of audience and purpose. These are classical rhetorical terms that describe why we write something, and what people might be inclined to read it.

The final point of the article rests on the concept of appreciating difference genres, and it’s a valid one. And, yes, academic subject are really difficult to summarize. But, also, let us not let lazy writers off the hook merely because they spent more time reading, or because they are academics. The writing has an obligation to make its purpose as clear as it can, even if it still falls short of each possible audience member’s attention span. It is also, I think, an ethical requirement for academics to find a way to make their work approachable, contextualized, and pragmatic for anyone in the public who contributes to their position through taxes or otherwise. Just like learning to speak a new language, making the effort can make the difference.

Source: In Defense of Academic Writing

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