The Academic Writing Thing

I understand Matthew Pratt Guterl’s argument: academic writing should be deep, complex and nuanced. But he misses an important point about critiques of academic writing: it is frequently laden with jargon and faulty sentence structure. To write about complex issues and ideas does not leave academics with the choice of prose that is either indecipherable or suitable for Twitter. This is the main issue that the critics of “academic writing” is not its complexity, but that is is poorly executed.



When Nicholas Kristof, the soft-hearted liberal on the New York Times op-ed page, decided that political scientists had given up on writing for a broader public, a digital avalanche of blog posts, letters to the editor, and tweets, followed. The APSA, Corey Robin, Claire Potter, and basically the entire editorial collective of Jacobin took the man to task for, basically, channeling the laziest version of Tom Friedman. Why, Kristof seemed to be asking, casually leafing through the past few issues of the New Yorker, can’t more people write like Jill Lepore? This is a fine question, but – as Robin points out – it isn’t the right question at all, and it probably isn’t an honest question, either.

Now, just as Kristof’s more recent and weak apologia has been begrudgingly accepted, here comes Joshua Rothman, writing in the New Yorker itself, and asking, with an eye on…

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One thought on “The Academic Writing Thing

  1. John Alexander Bartelloni

    Agree completely. With its frequently convoluted sentence structure and grammatical inconsistencies, academic writing is something I generally avoid reading.

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