You don’t really sound smart

The message: You have to write the same way as others in your field. You must use multisyllabic words, complex phrasing, and sentences that go on for days, because that’s how you show you’re smart. If you’re too clear, if your sentences are too simple, your peers won’t take you seriously.

Many people—publishers of scholarly work, editors at higher-education publications, agents looking for academic authors capable of writing trade books—who think about the general quality of scholarly prose would admit that we’re in a sorry state, and most would say there isn’t much to do about it.

By writing prose that is nearly unintelligible not just to the general public, but also to graduate students and fellow academics in your discipline, you are not doing the work of advancing knowledge. And, honestly, you don’t really sound smart. I understand that there are ideas that are so difficult that their expression must be complex and dense. But I can tell you, after years of rejecting manuscripts submitted to university presses, most people’s ideas aren’t that brilliant.

Rachel Toor

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