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Bad Writing, Bad ThinkingBad Writing, Bad Thinking

Bad Writing, Bad Thinking

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.

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Topics: Education
Bad Writing, Bad Thinking April 19, 2010  |  By Alissa Wilkinson
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The Chronicle had a piece on Friday called "Bad Writing and Bad Thinking":

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.

Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in. And it's a result of lazy thinking. Most of us know that we may not be writing as well as we could, or should. Many academics have told me that they suspect they are bad writers but don't know how to get better. They are often desperate for help. I tell them to reread Strunk and White, and to take a look at "Politics and the English Language." Yeah, yeah, they say, and get buried working toward the next submission deadline, prepping for the next class.

I've spent all semester trying to hammer this very idea—that one needn't be boring to be scholarly into my students' heads. It's starting to work. But I hadn't thought about how this bad writing is related to bad thinking. It makes sense, though, and I suppose I know this. After all, the surest sign that you don't understand something is that you can't really explain it to someone else (and as a side note: I have a lurking suspicion that this accounts for a lot of the snottiness in the IT community).

But it's good to remember that this is not a new problem.

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