(Un)Clarity in Scholarly Writing

the scribe "Gundohinus" (c. 755 AD), Monastere de Vosevio. from Wikipedia Commons

the scribe "Gundohinus" (c. 755 AD), Monastere de Vosevio. from Wikipedia Commons

“Writing Differently” by Christopher Gray and Amanda Sinclair is an insightful and humorous 2006 article that discusses pretentious academic writing (and why we should avoid it).

They are from the field of Critical Management Studies and they are especially concerned that abstruse scholarly writing makes it difficult to transfer academic knowledge to business practices.

I hope the article was good for a laugh and a moment of reflective insight into your own approach toward writing, as it was for me. The article might be very useful for a graduate course, too.

Excerpt from conclusion:

The obscure and pretentious way of writing that has become commonplace
in critical work manifestly has power effects. Within the academy,
we write to install ourselves into authority—we should be honest about
this. As critical scholars, we should at least acknowledge our tendencies
to write for the purposes of defending our ideas and our reputations.
Even in discussions of discourse and narrative, we often show alarmingly
little sensibility to the very discourses and disembodied narratives we are
constructing. Beyond the academy, the effect of the way we write is to
render critical work marginal. How easily repressive tolerance can operate
when what we write is not just unread, but virtually unreadable.

We want writing to be taken seriously, as powerful and evocative
performance, able to change peoples’ experiences of the world, rather than
as a shriven, cowed and cowering path towards routinized, professionalised
‘publication’. We wonder if it is possible to write differently.


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