Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Shame of Essays

I have come to the conclusion that in order to gain any position of authority in the academic realm, one must also have a fetish for incredibly boring, dull, and dry writing. Now, the need for concise, clear, and precise language is obvious, but what's with this desire for boring, dull, and dry language? Everyday terms and phrases that are well established in the culture can be just as easily understood as, if not more easily understood than formal academic speech.

Granted, perhaps I slip into slightly too casual a tone from time to time, and writing with slang can dampen the authoritative voice. But I don't see the problem with trying to spice up an otherwise mind-numbing onslaught of aloof but perfectly formatted paragraphs on a topic that very few people are likely to care about. Perhaps if academic papers were written using an interesting voice, a down to earth voice, people might actually care to read the stuff. But heaven forbid too many people enjoy reading academic work! That would totally sap the special elite status of scholarly write-ups.

At any rate, the next paper I write I shall endeavour to make the person marking it fall asleep. Maybe I'll get lucky. If the guy can't get through it for all his sudden urges to take a nap, he might just give up and give me the benefit of the doubt by means of a good grade.

Seriously - is it any wonder that people like to read blog posts, news articles, and brightly coloured books on the latest in academia rather than the actual journals from whence the information came?


Ok, if I'm perfectly honest (as I always am), I know this is more of an only partially justified rant than a smooth and well-crafted argument for my case, but bear with me. I don't take a B- on my essays lightly.

“For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.”
C. S. Lewis


Sandra said...

I'd give you an A+ as a daughter, though! :)

Emily said...

Auugh I agree. It's like a requirement that formal essays must be boring. It's frustrating, because outside of academia, nobody writes like that!

Art said...

If you write stuff that nobody else understands or cares about and can do it in a way that people won't read it, then you must be smart. It means you are special and not like everyone else, who by definition are just average.

If you want exciting reading, I will quote the first paragraph from my magazine "IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation" (July 1994 page 1013 from the article "Green Dyadic for a Uniaxial Bianisotropic Medium"

An explicit expression for the Green dyadic corresponding to the axially chiral reciprocal uniaxial bianisotropic medium is derived through dyadic analysis with no recourse to Fourier transformations. The result is a generalization of the Green dyadic corresponding to the uniaxial anisotropic medium, which has been known for decades. As a verification, expressions for the field due to an axial dipole are derived and compared to those derived recently through other methods. The medium under study can be realized by laying axially parallel metal helixes in random locations in a host material. Such a medium has recently been shown to possess important polarization-transforming properties.