jargon and more jargon equals inaccessible knowledge

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Bad Writing and Bad Thinking – Do Your Job Better” provides much-needed commentary on the quality of writing in academic scholarship. I have often argued that scholarly writing tends to be inaccessible to all but a chosen few and even those of us who can understand it still hate to read it. It’s particularly ironic when scholars in my field–rhetoric and composition–publish poorly written articles. While we teach our students to pare down their writing and use active rather than passive voice, in our own writing we tend to ignore that advice. I’m even more appalled when I read scholarly articles and books that specifically address accessibility yet are entirely inaccessible to a larger audience. When I’ve voiced this criticism to fellow academics, the frequent response is that our work is written for a specialized audience who should be familiar with the terms and writing style that we use. On the surface it is difficult to argue against this point, but the subtext is less defensible. Rather than “specialized terms and writing styles,” read “obscure terms and poor writing.” In spite of this, many of us who are not already established scholars are penalized when we write accessibly. Even though our thoughts and writing are intelligent and carefully considered, our failure to adhere to obscure jargon is held against us. It’s a sad state of affairs when those who teach writing write so poorly that only a small percentage of the population has even the slightest clue as to what we are talking about (and even that percentage dreads reading what we’ve written). Kudos to Rachel Toor for writing this article!

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