The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
~ Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history".
A common purpose students have in their enrollment of the AWEC courses is to learn the skills that would make their writing transform. The transformation naturally includes more frequent use, hence improved command, of English as a foreign language (for most enrolled students). But at the heart of that change is a developed sense of being an academic writer. The AWEC has long set itself the role of aiding such a development, and while the imparted skills vary in accord with courses targeted at different needs, they all share a commitment to effective communication, to mindful connection—a commitment, that is, to enhance reading conditions. This is why our courses applaud clear language, smooth flow, and concrete examples, and admonish thoughtless use of “jargonitis” and abstractions.
At every turn, when reading academic journal articles, however, students discover that they are often written in a style that only dampens readability. Many of them are full of jargon-laden phrases, sloppily-used pronouns, convoluted sentences that keep subjects far away from verbs, and expressions that uniformly erase human agency. It would be hasty to say, though, that we have now faced an unfavorable circumstance where practice and theory conflict. It rather is an understandable circumstance where the substance of research, namely findings and contributions, makes the reader negligent (or tolerant) of their oft-accompanying uncongenial style. Nevertheless, once we inherit such a style, we let practice and theory conflict.
This is what Helen Sword urges against in her Stylish Academic Writing. In this book, she demystifies the stereotype that scholarly journals feature, and even prize, long-winded syntax and excessive jargon. Asking more than seventy scholars from various disciplines to characterize stylish writing, Sword finds that their responses consistently point to criteria like “expressing complex ideas clearly and precisely,” “producing elegant, carefully crafted sentences,” and “avoiding jargon, except where specialized terminology is essential to the argument.” In her analysis of work by over one hundred acclaimed authors from across a wide range of fields, corresponding characteristics prevail. Confirming that “elegant ideas deserve elegant expression,” Stylish Academic Writing looks into how this elegance could be effectively communicated, with individual chapters advising on such techniques as how to hook and engage readers, how to craft clear and cogent sentences, and how to use suitable anecdotes and metaphors. Serious writers can take this book's advice to heart.