Librarians at one North American university have posted on the internet a guide to help students distinguish a scholarly journal from a popular one. Among the telltale signs of populist offerings are high production values – “slick, glossy, with colour pictures, photographs, and illustrations” – and writing that is “non-technical” and uses “simple vocabulary accessible to the majority of readers”; whereas textual material in a journal is described as “college level, in the specialized vocabulary of the discipline covered”.

That’s akin to saying that scholarly articles are written in code for those in the know; they are more exclusionary than inclusionary. There is a widespread belief that any work that is easily understood by a non-specialist must have been dumbed down. References and footnotes therefore swaddle the text like an intellectual security blanket and deter the curious reader.

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