I recently read a book by the New Zealand poet and academic Helen Sword called Stylish Academic Writing. It’s a thoughtful, considered and very well written guide for students and academics to think about the nature of the language they use. Below are three quotes that stayed with me.
On using the personal voice:
When we muzzle the personal voice, we risk subverting our whole purpose as researchers, which is to foster change by communicating new knowledge to our intended audience in the most effective and persuasive way possible.
Language and power:
Academics who are committed to using language effectively and ethically— as a tool for communication, not as an emblem of power— need first of all to acknowledge the seductive power of jargon to bamboozle, obfuscate, and impress.
Academics identified by their peers as stylish writers for other reasons— their intelligence, humor, personal voice, or descriptive power— are invariably sticklers for well-crafted prose. Their sentences may vary in length, subject matter, and style; however, their writing is nearly always governed by three key principles that any writer can learn. First, they employ plenty of concrete nouns and vivid verbs, especially when discussing abstract concepts. Second, they keep nouns and verbs close together, so that readers can easily identify “who’s kicking whom.” Third, they avoid weighing down their sentences with extraneous words and phrases, or “clutter.” Far from eschewing theoretical intricacy or syntactical nuance, stylish academic writers deploy these three core principles in the service of eloquent expression and complex ideas.