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Trending Articles From GTP

October 16, 2014

Teaching Tools: Veterans in the College Classroom

Presenter: Mike Burtis, Doctoral Candidate, Sociology

October 2, 2014

Teaching Tools: Avoiding “Academese”


First published on September 26, Steven Pinker’s article “Why Academics’ Writing Stinks” remains the most highly read piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education website. And for good reason. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, argues that bad writing has become the academic standard. He states that, “In writing badly, we are wasting each other’s time, sowing confusion and error, and turning our profession into a laughingstock.”

For Pinker, part of the issue is the “curse of knowledge,” the idea that it is difficult to imagine what it is like “not to know something that you know.” As teachers, especially for those teaching introductory courses, this is a concept that we often encounter in the university classroom. How do we convey our knowledge in an easy-to-follow way? We often think of ways to explain terms and clarify jargon so that our students may understand the material. Pinker suggests that our approach to academic writing—itself a method of teaching and communication—should be similarly focused on how to convey information.

In a recent Friday Forum, Greg Johnson, Professor of Religious Studies, argued that introducing your own research into the college classroom can help improve your academic writing. The process of translating your knowledge can help avoid the very issues that Pinker brings up.

To help clarify academic writing Pinker recommends that you always show a draft of your work to a sample of real readers. If they can follow the piece, you are on the right track. He also suggests paying close attention to style through (three or four) of your own edits.

Read Pinker’s full piece here—and be sure to take a glimpse at the lively comments!