“Why Is Academic Writing So Academic?”

Joshua Rothman (2014) offered some reflections on the nature of academic writing and why it is so … ahem… academic. My favorite excerpt focuses on the role of audience  in shaping academic writing:

Academic writing is a fraught and mysterious thing. If you’re an academic in a writerly discipline, such as history, English, philosophy, or political science, the most important part of your work—practically and spiritually—is writing. Many academics think of themselves, correctly, as writers. And yet a successful piece of academic prose is rarely judged so by “ordinary” standards. Ordinary writing—the kind you read for fun—seeks to delight (and, sometimes, to delight and instruct). Academic writing has a more ambiguous mission. It’s supposed to be dry but also clever; faceless but also persuasive; clear but also completist. Its deepest ambiguity has to do with audience. Academic prose is, ideally, impersonal, written by one disinterested mind for other equally disinterested minds. But, because it’s intended for a very small audience of hyper-knowledgable, mutually acquainted specialists, it’s actually among the most personal writing there is. If journalists sound friendly, that’s because they’re writing for strangers. With academics, it’s the reverse.

Rothman, J. (2014, February 20). Why is academic writing so academic? The New Yorker.  Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/why-is-academic-writing-so-academic.