Why Most Academics Will Always Be Bad Writers

Noah Berlatsky, Tidsskriftet for Universiteternes Efter- og Videreuddannelse, Jul 13, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

OK, it's true that most academics write badly, if I am to judge by the volumes of academic writing that I've read. It's not political or philosophical, writes Noah Berlatsky. Contra Pinker, he argues "Academics don’t need to be elitist, careerist, or corrupted by postmodernism to write badly." It's because writing well is difficult, and most academics don't have the skill, he says. True enough, but hardly an excuse. Most people aren't physicists, and physics is certainly hard, but most journal publications are not instances of bad physics. And in the disciplines that actually study writing, such as most of the social sciences and humanities, bad writing is actually evidence that authors do not understand the subject being discussed, much unable to discuss it properly themselves. True, clarity of expression does not mean you are correct (Pinker is an obvious counterexample) but you cannot be correct without clarity.

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