Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

    Academic Writing: A Lot of Words with Few Meanings

         Essays are the inevitable part of most university students’ life, and along with them come the ever-ominous requirement: the word count. This condition ensures that students produce work of sufficient substance, that they have proposed something knowledgeable and meaningful. The talented or dedicated among students would have no issues in meeting the challenge. Yet those who are slightly less studious or bothered – likely the majority – will resort to a few simple tricks to beat the word count. They may repeat themselves, abuse the passive voice, construct convoluted expressions and sprinkle fancy words throughout the essay. The writings’ meaning gradually becomes vague and lost, or simply unintelligible and useless. Thus we have the technique known as “waffling”, as some students like to call it.

         Doubtless the professors and tutors who grade these essays would be frustrated to no end as they wade through such “waffle”. Yet these academics are often no better themselves. Browse through any academic journal, especially the ones in humanities, and they might as well be written in a foreign language. The sciences may be somewhat forgiven for their jargon, given their study of the more abstract aspects of nature. Yet the field standard of the passive voice is decidedly unhelpful, encouraging academics to use long-winded and imprecise expressions. The use of unconventional vocabulary to describe otherwise simple ideas is similarly confusing. Unless it is for referring to a defined academic concept, there is no reason to replace “have a discussion” with “engage in interlocution”.

         Altogether, the academic writing style often obscures each phrase’s meaning. To put it in the academic style: “The utilisation of verbosity and elaborate syntax constructions by those engaged in academic pursuits can be considered, at best, as not conducive to the effective conveyance of concepts”. With academic work written in this vexing manner, students studying them might emulate them and repeat the cycle when they become future academics.

         Would it not be wonderful if academia would put a greater focus on being understood? George Orwell had pointed out similar sins in political writing as far back as 1946, and it seems academia has adopted rather than avoided these shortcomings. The current approach churns out a lot of words without a proportional level of comprehensible meaning. Academia could be much more efficient and effective if we can cut back on “waffling” and have works written clearly and plainly. It would certainly make them much less of a pain to read.

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