It’s official: Loud chewing, the king of pet peeves, has been dethroned. In its place? The insidious, mind-numbing horror that is collegiate academic writing. I decree, a new king is named! Despite the novelty of his reign, we have suffered for far too long under the tyranny of seven-syllable words, paragraphs parading as a single sentence and the dreadful triple negative. No more, I say! No more!
An Andriana of the past once believed that the best writers produced big words and bigger sentences, ones with twenty different kinds of punctuation to… do what? Show that the author knows how to use them all? I guess. In the mind of Past Me, a confusing text was a successful text, because it meant that the author’s ideas were brilliant! Lowly reader be damned, she who is simply too simple-minded to comprehend such genius.
But now, in my 20th year, I have become cantankerous and bitter. As I trudge through the desolate landscape of Eighth Week, my eyes are drying up, my head aching and my patience running thin. I no longer have the stamina to read an article the size of a novella and decode the intricacies that lie within. I can only stare, straight ahead, at a screen far too bright, to reread the same page for the thirty-seventh time. Woe to me!
Why must we accept the ideological gatekeeping that defines so much of academic writing? If the reader is the explorer, embarking on a journey to achieve enlightenment, then the author is the troll under the bridge. Before the reader can cross the bridge to reach a level of higher understanding, she first must answer a riddle! And that riddle will take approximately four hours to figure out, and after all of that, she still might not produce the answer. In which case, she will have lost four hours, not to mention the opportunity to escape the binds of academic peasantry in order to become an intellectually superior being.
I kid, I kid. The author is not a troll. But seriously… What is the point of having ideas if no one can understand them? To be very clear: I am not shaming anyone’s writing skills. I am shaming the myth that we must communicate our ideas with pretentious presentation and hoity-toity words to sound smart. There are so many bad habits that are pervasive in academic writing, muddling the message to the extent that the passage becomes functionally unreadable.
The triple negative that I mentioned above? It’s a freak of nature, and it shouldn’t ever not be nonexistent. Was that a little confusing? Let me translate: It shouldn’t exist! Ever! When it comes to pretentious language: Some of the words I’ve used in this article make me want to kick myself in the teeth. And none of them even pass six syllables! As for the paragraphs-long sentences… well, this article has a word limit.
By this point, I suppose my secret’s out–I’m a picky, cranky, sixth-term English major (and a total joy at parties, I swear). But my frustration is not without reason: Beyond not actually being the hallmark of a good writer, inaccessible passages make for an unhappy reader. I’m talking about passages that make the reader rub her eyes, scratch her head, and, in exasperation, throw her hands up and say “huh?” Passages that make the author look smart and the reader feel dumb. It wasn’t until I started college that I became that reader and realized just how frustrating it is.
This article is an impassioned plea. Not to dumb down writing, and certainly not to create an image of an incompetent reader. Rather, to reconsider what it means to be a good writer and to promote accessibility in academic writing. Reading should not be a confusing activity! (Yes, I recognize that there are niche subjects that can be very complex and abstract. But in those cases, it shouldn’t be the writing that’s confusing!) Yet in its current state, academic reading is often a migraine waiting to happen.
One last thing: I would never dare to suggest that I know more about writing than the experts producing most of the collegiate reading material. But I do have a lot of experience with reading. And I have confidence in my abilities as a reader. And I know that it shouldn’t be this hard. So, from one reader to a community full of writers: Please keep readers like me in mind when you write. I beg. I plead. Join me in dethroning the new king of pet peeves.