Few scholarly works can communicate with non-specialists, if they even attempt to. But academics in all fields may need to make their writing more accessible to satisfy demands for impact and interdisciplinarity. Matthew Reisz considers the obfuscatory malaise and how to beat it
It is widely agreed, by both insiders and outsiders, that something has gone wrong with much academic writing.
A great deal of it, says Anthony Haynes, the author of Writing Successful Academic Books and visiting professor at both Beijing Normal and Hiroshima universities, is ruined by “a kind of learned inability. No one is born writing sentences laden with adverbs.”
John Cornwell, director of the Science and Human Dimension Project based at Jesus College, Cambridge, has worked as a journalist and written a number of best-selling books about the papacy. He is firmly committed to the value of academic rigour and believes that “there are aspects of academic work and publishing that aren’t for a wider readership, but still need to be done”. Yet he also believes that “much academic writing suffers from rigor mortis”.
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Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.