Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


What a Great Review

NudeCybot sent me a link to an interesting looking book on “Sorting Things Out.” I found this review resonated with how I often feel reading academic work:

This tragic book is full of important ideas and significant research, but it’s so poorly written you hardly notice. Other reviews kindly describe its style as “academic,” but it’s just bad writing. It’s really shocking that publishers still consider this kind of jargon-filled nonsense acceptable to publish outside of the UMI thesis-reprint circuit. (I write professionally, so I’m not unqualified to make this assertion.)

After making a cogent point with examples and internal references, the authors feel the need to bridge to the next section with this clotted delight:

“Leaking out of the freeze frame, comes the insertion of biography, negotiation, and struggles with a shifting infrastructure of classification and treatment. Turning now to other presentation and classification of tuberculosis by a novelist and a sociologist, we will see the complex dialectic of irrevocably local biography and of standard classification.”

Wha? What you mean to say is:

“This tension between personal experience and clinical priorities plays a large part in our current understanding of ‘tuberculosis.’ To further examine this tension, we will now examine the personal tuberculosis stories of a novelist and a sociologist.”

He’s spot on. I often find myself, when writing for academic conferences, adopting this sort of turgid, convoluted, overly wordy style, choosing to consistently refer to ourselves in a plural form, and using too many commas to show you, tediously, how smart (and, parenthetically, how clever), I must be. If English isn’t your first language, you’re entirely forgiven for writing in German, and translating.

As the Economist likes to point out, short words are best. Their Style Guide takes a few more words, but has extra details.

2 comments on "What a Great Review"

  • Nudecybot says:

    lol, I guess I should have looked for a reviews of the book before pointing it out to you, but then again you never would have read that excellent review 😉

  • adam says:

    Don’t get me wrong…I’m thinking of buying the book in spite of that–it treats a topic that I’m very interested in, and if I can get more perspectives, I’ll do better.

Comments are closed.