Idiosyncrasies of Academic Writing


Sometimes I wonder why it’s so challenging to preserve a structure, a narrative, to the flow of ideas in our academic papers. Why do we resist ourselves so much from drifting away into experimental prose while discussing, for instance, the implicature and not the explicit implication of affect states on unethical behavior? Is there no way to consciously drop certain rules of academic writing to produce a rich sophisticated text like that of Ulysses in scientific literature? Being someone who cherishes the resources that English affords me in terms of writing stylish and engaging text, I raise serious concern not with the stress of writing things that are worthwhile to be on print but instead with the way how we, as writers, are confirming to a phenomenon which I name poverty of perception.

This blog won’t be the right place to unpack what I mean by poverty of perception, however, I find idiosyncrasies of academic writing is a topic that, down the ladder, we all as University students grapple with. The nature of my attitude towards academic writing must not be mistaken as one that of whining or absolute despise but instead my concern is very fundamental as to how language use is constrained and off-putting in academic papers. Topics that I, as a student of human nature, wish to know more about, whether its computational modelling of hemispheric asymmetry in visual processing or lexical processing in the human brain, no matter which disciplinary perspective I adopt to fully understand a cognitive process, there always comes a point where it just becomes unbearable to follow not what or why but instead how the researchers are, for instance, manipulating the weights in the neural network or transcribing the brain activation levels to stark statistical figures represented in their research papers. How can I learn how did the researchers’ methodology of manipulating and recording the variables under scrutiny produce the results of their study? Mere reporting of statistical tests and significance of values obtained from such tests don’t calm an inquisitive mind. It’s the procedures from data collection to analysis that inspires a reader of scientific literature. After knowing the finding, it’s the question of how you arrived at this conclusion which is the most exciting and in fact the driving force of all subsequent scientific endeavors. Yet the part that’s supposed to be most lucidly described ends up being the most incomprehensible to the vast majority of readers including researchers working in the same discipline. The writers are partially to be blamed for adopting jargons and technical language in the methodology section of their paper, however, the greater problem lies in the culture of accepted practices and norms in the field of academic writing that fosters in us, from our first term paper at University, a restrictive outlook on the scope and readership of research papers and this is what I refer to as poverty of perception.

Maybe this is the right spot to loop back to my halt stage and let you, readers, to evaluate the issue I raise in my argument and dwell upon its merits and weaknesses. And for those who are equally concerned about the opaqueness in academic papers, there is an interesting take on this issue by Steven Pinker here-