Is there any form of writing more dense, jargon-filled and hard to figure out than academic writing? Technical manuals poorly translated into English are probably easier to read than many of the textbooks currently lining my bookshelf. It’s a shame, because I have spent hundreds of dollars on these books in order to learn something from them, and instead, I find myself getting distracted and confused. I have to read paragraphs three or four times in order to find the meaning, and according to the class discussion on Facebook (our student lounge in this distance program), I’m not alone.
Looking through the text, a major problem that I have noticed is that, in order to try and build in some distance and objectivity, and put an emphasis on procedure, the authors often strip out the people carrying out an activity. In the social sciences, where people are the active ingredients in an experiment, this is just crazy. Can you imagine describing a chemistry experiment without the chemicals? I have had it with these kind of sentences: “lesson plans are then reviewed”, “stakeholders must be consulted”, “a needs analysis was carried out”. Who do the authors think is running around doing all this activity?
The American Psychological Association has tried to steer academic writing back into clarity, but even in their own publication manual, they are fighting a losing battle. While some brave soul has written the chapter on style with great clarity, the rest of the manual tumbles back into obfuscation and passivity. I guess it was a committee project.
Here is my bold challenge to all academics, especially those in the social sciences and humanities: put the people back into your work. The words “social” and “humanities” are there for a reason! Use the first person, the second person, the third person – whatever it takes to make that wonderful little construction, subject, verb, object.