The Flaw in Academic Writing

Why academic writing is inaccessible in more than one way.

Quite a few academic papers have managed to sneak their way onto my hard drive. College students are all too familiar with the dilemma of a million readings crowding their storage and making their computer lag like nothing they've ever seen. Academic papers (especially ones that lay out research) are infamously hard to read. They are dry, long, and too formal for the reader to ever truly feel comfortable.

The first problem with academic papers lies in the way information is presented. Academic writers seem to think that taking the long, twisting, confusing road from point A to point B will somehow make their point more concrete or justified. In reality, it will be much more effective to make a point quickly and then go into depth about the idea. This would a. clarify what the writer is trying to get across right away and offer a more stable foundation for their examples and reasoning and b. give the reader the option of accepting the idea immediately and skipping all of the other information. I don't think most readers think in terms of this, but starting your point and interjecting with all of your examples and more complex information before you finish it is a great reason for any audience to get frustrated and give up.

There seems to be this desire within academia to fit as many big, complex, annoying words into one thought as possible. As though saying "hegemonic" and "discourse" in the same sentence as "determinism" and "social darwinism" make any sense at all. Academics are proud of their work, and rightfully so, but I think they often do themselves a disservice by making it inaccessible to anyone besides other academics. In that sense, I tend to lean towards the idea that academics don't write for the public, they write for others working in their own field.

Recently, a person told me that they think the idea of universities withholding research papers and academic writing from those who don't work or study within their institution is inherently immoral.

"Why would you go to all the trouble of doing fieldwork or writing a thesis when it's just going to be locked away in some super secret online vault that only a couple thousand people have access to at any given time? Doesn't that completely destroy the purpose of all the work you did?"

This problem is real and somewhat parallels that of the density of language in academic writing. As someone who spent a fair portion of their life (18 years) around people who worked researched species ranging from zebra muscles to monarch butterflies, I know exactly how hard and valuable research is to it's collectors. I may be a critic of the current state of academia, but I will never claim that it has not discovered amazing information. The practice of universities guarding students and professors work is not only sad, it seems somewhat criminal. I think everyone has a right to release their work whenever they want to, but I would also say that a university, an institution that has claimed to dedicate it's existence to furthering knowledge, has an obligation to spread the work it has as far and wide as possible.

Maybe I don't have all the facts, maybe I'm missing an important piece of the puzzle. Maybe this is just another way that universities can hold onto people and create little bubbles of information. Whatever the answer may be, I currently stand by my position that academic writing is flawed. It is stuck in a current of outdated english that is hard to understand. It is withheld from those who cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in tuition every semester. It is another reminder to those who were "not good enough" or decided to "opt out" that their refusal to conform will not only have social impacts but will effect what knowledge is accessible to them. It is yet another indication of status and association.