HowTo: avoid bad writing

Rachel Toor dissects bad writing for you (link via Brayden at Orgtheory):

By writing prose that is nearly unintelligible not just to the general public, but also to graduate students and fellow academics in your discipline, you are not doing the work of advancing knowledge. And, honestly, you don’t really sound smart. I understand that there are ideas that are so difficult that their expression must be complex and dense. But I can tell you, after years of rejecting manuscripts submitted to university presses, most people’s ideas aren’t that brilliant.

Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in. And it’s a result of lazy thinking. Most of us know that we may not be writing as well as we could, or should. Many academics have told me that they suspect they are bad writers but don’t know how to get better. They are often desperate for help. I tell them to reread Strunk and White, and to take a look at “Politics and the English Language.” Yeah, yeah, they say, and get buried working toward the next submission deadline, prepping for the next class.

But this is not to be taken lightly.

I’m going to provide a gloss on Orwell’s essay, in the hope that it will encourage a few wannabe-better writers to read it themselves. (You can find the original in seven seconds of Googling.)

To save those seven seconds for you (and, also because I really like), here is Orwell’s (must-read) piece.

2 Responses to “HowTo: avoid bad writing”

  1. cherilaser Says:

    Your points are very well taken. After just completing the evaluation of 138 high school essays for a contest, however, I believe that the focus on writing needs to begin way before graduate school.

    Somehow we are sending people on to college who don’t know how to capture their own thoughts on paper or correctly construct sentences. So referring someone to Orwell is useful only if the basic foundation was built in elementary school. And I fear that such an expectation might be beyond the scope of reality, at least until something changes in our public school systems.

  2. Arunn Says:

    Here is a collection I did sometime back: Bad Writing

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