The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

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PeteJ
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by PeteJ » Sat Nov 04, 2017 2:34 pm

There is also the reverse problem of style over substance, which is an all too common problem in philosophy.

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Adrian Allan
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Adrian Allan » Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:29 pm

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 2:00 pm
Take note of the pass criteria - even at post-grad level it's as pathetic as "the candidate must show SOME knowledge of the primary sources, SOME knowledge of the issues (i.e. secondary sources), and SOME ability to argue."
The onus is on you to learn to read and criticise.
Welcome to the adult world!

Reading boring books is better than spending two days chasing a Spanish research paper, only to realise it could have been written by a 10-year-old (I experienced that once while writing a commentary to a poem in the Palatine Anthology).

What's your location?
In the UK one is on a fairly firm footing - one either reads Oxford academics (but they are guilty of certain orthodoxies in certain faculties), or one reads Cambridge and has to tolerate their fondness for never using one word when 10 words will do. Cambridge tend to be more left-wing. Here I am not allowed to say anything, due to the censorship on this forum.
American writers rarely seem to have any interest in their subject - they write in areas where there's a buck in it for them. If you ignore all of them, you may miss a very rare gem (but your tutor should be able to help you avoid that), but look again at those pass criteria! Engineer your results. If you can't do that, you can't do anything.
I have never really noticed a difference in style due the university. There are lots of publishing houses in the UK. I think that the main issue is with the writer. Given that some concepts are quite complicated, some academics have the ability to explain clearly without over simplifying, whereas others tend to make their arguments unnecessarily hard to follow. It's a question of style, ultimately. Some people seem to have a natural ability, but for those who do not, I think that a doctorate should do more to train potential academics in their writing style, before they are let loose on the world.
Last edited by Adrian Allan on Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Adrian Allan
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Adrian Allan » Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:30 pm

PeteJ wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 2:34 pm
There is also the reverse problem of style over substance, which is an all too common problem in philosophy.
I think that can occur in other subjects like history as well. I sometimes read three pages and think, "I'm sure that could have been said in a paragraph".
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by MessyTendon » Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:54 pm

Why are you wasting your time studying the past, when you can play the guitar in the present and future :)

Academia and academic culture is a diseased franchise of financially elite men and women who prey on the youth...to be students.

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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Rognvald » Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:55 pm

Adrian,
For those of us with advanced academic degrees, your comments are illustrative of most academic writing. Similar to baseball players, some hit 230 while others hit 300. Writing can be taught but, it is my opinion, the best writers are "naturals." They have an instinctive sense of sentence, paragraph and chapter development and bring the excitement they feel about the subject to their pages. A good example is the History of WWII where semi-arid historians like William Manchester and John Toland are extolled as great writers but cannot compare, in my opinion, to the poetic and psychological mastery of the much-maligned David Irving whose biographies of WWII luminaries are among the best historic writings to be found--especially that of the tragic figure: Rudolph Hess which reads like a good novel. My personal interest is in Dark Age European History, specifically the Viking Age, and contrary to the stereotype, I find the lion share of the historians to be quite literate: Fridtjof Nansen, William Hovgaard, Joseph Fischer, Helge Ingstad, and our dear friend Tacitus among the many. However, I agree with your statement and perhaps we should point the finger at why one historian is published rather than another. There is a sickening reality in academia that politics takes precedence over talent. It's not what you know . . .but who you know and perhaps this is at the root of the problem. Playing again . . . Rognvald
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Adrian Allan
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Adrian Allan » Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:34 pm

MessyTendon wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:54 pm
Why are you wasting your time studying the past, when you can play the guitar in the present and future :)

Academia and academic culture is a diseased franchise of financially elite men and women who prey on the youth...to be students.
That is a little bit cyncical (and I am a real cynic)

I did originally take a degree in history, then got distracted by the guitar and had a family, and have returned to academic study at a point in my life when I felt ready to do so - and to offer some experience from my life. I felt a bit of a fraud doing social history at the age of 20 because I really had not lived, and was commenting on the lives of others, while being buried in a text book. I am a big believer in only committing yourself to challenges when the time seems right.

I think that some people may question the value of academia if its is really obscure (eg. medieval field patterns in southern England) but it does bring other benefits in terms of exercising the mind and improving literacy, etc etc.

I don't think it is all about exploiting the youth. In my opinion if we can afford to fund illegal wars, we can afford to fund degrees without getting young people into debt. I will avoid being political by mentioning which wars and which countries, of course.
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Rick Beauregard
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Rick Beauregard » Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:42 pm

I’m not an expert, but I’ve read my share of academic texts and written my share of text targeted towards generalists based in these academic sources. It often has to do with a completely different structure of writing academic vs. journalistic, target to two different readers. Journalists start with the headline, the conclusion, state the most important things first, then second most etc. until the last paragraphs which are less important, in case they have to be deleted to fit the column. They target readers with limited attention span and time. Academics leave the conclusive sentences, the punchline, for last and build a case through the long narrative citing more and more evidence to support the conclusion. They target scientists who think in his sequence.

Notwithstanding earlier comments about foggy writing in general and that some academic writers may be better than others, academic writing follows the scientific method. It is a real skill to be able to switch between the two. You’ll have a job if you can do that well.
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Andrew Fryer
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Andrew Fryer » Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:52 pm

Rick Beauregard wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:42 pm
Journalists start with the headline, the conclusion, state the most important things first, then second most etc. until the last paragraphs which are less important, in case they have to be deleted to fit the column.
Sorry, but you are either joking or very naive. Take an average tabloid, and the article is written with the truth coming in the final sentence, in the hope that the average reader will give up before getting that far. Quotes are presented as fact a lot of the time because the readers are not intelligent enough to understand the significance of the quotation marks, and the headline comes last and is written by a sub-editor to put across the paper's political message, whether it agrees with the article or directly contradicts it! This deals with all those people who only graze headlines and it deals with commuters who read over people's shoulders. It also causes the persistent reader to read the whole article through a red mist and fail to see the truth unless abnormally vigilant.
Last edited by Andrew Fryer on Sat Nov 04, 2017 6:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Adrian Allan
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Adrian Allan » Sat Nov 04, 2017 6:01 pm

Rick Beauregard wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:42 pm
I’m not an expert, but I’ve read my share of academic texts and written my share of text targeted towards generalists based in these academic sources. It often has to do with a completely different structure of writing academic vs. journalistic, target to two different readers. Journalists start with the headline, the conclusion, state the most important things first, then second most etc. until the last paragraphs which are less important, in case they have to be deleted to fit the column. They target readers with limited attention span and time. Academics leave the conclusive sentences, the punchline, for last and build a case through the long narrative citing more and more evidence to support the conclusion. They target scientists who think in his sequence.

Notwithstanding earlier comments about foggy writing in general and that some academic writers may be better than others, academic writing follows the scientific method. It is a real skill to be able to switch between the two. You’ll have a job if you can do that well.
Some academic books are certainly not very focussed, and are far from being scientific. I think it depends on the traditions of the subject in question. All I know is that some history books, even if discussing quite difficult subjects, are a pleasure to read, and others, a real chore. All I am arguing is that there should be more training, probably at doctoral level, in improving the style of writing - not so that it is overly simplified, but just that it is not needlessly dense and hard to unpick.
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BugDog
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by BugDog » Sat Nov 04, 2017 6:17 pm

To generalize Rick B. 's comment about the reader.

Writing targeted at a specific audience and a particular purpose, IMHO, is generally structured better than just a "data dump" of a subject. When the audience and purpose are considered, it becomes more obvious as to what to put in, what to leave out, and the order in which to present them.

Some writing does have "rules". Like most technical writing is third person.
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Rognvald » Sat Nov 04, 2017 6:32 pm

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:52 pm
Rick Beauregard wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:42 pm
Journalists start with the headline, the conclusion, state the most important things first, then second most etc. until the last paragraphs which are less important, in case they have to be deleted to fit the column.
Sorry, but you are either joking or very naive. Take an average tabloid and the article is written, with the truth coming in the final sentence, in the hope that the average reader will give up before getting that far. Quotes are presented as fact a lot of the time because the readers are not intelligent enough to understand the significance of the quotation marks, and the headline comes last and is written by a sub-editor to put across the paper's political message, whether it agrees with the article or directly contradicts it! This deals with all those people who only graze headlines and it deals with commuters who read over people's shoulders. It also causes the persistent reader to read the whole article through a red mist and fail to see the truth unless abnormally vigilant.
Andrew,
Actually, Rick is exactly correct and this is exactly how Journalism has been and is taught at American Universities. It defines the difference between Journalism and other types of writing. The assumption, and correctly so, is that the reader wants the facts ,short and sweet, and wants to move on to the next story. This is also the format for TV Journalism. Both forms have hit a very low-level today and are more reminiscent of the "Yellow Journalism" of the early 1920's than the serious Journalism of the 60 through the 90's. Journalism reflects culture and the low level of Journalism today reflects the lack of education and seriousness of the Herd. Playing again . . . Rognvald
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Rick Beauregard » Sat Nov 04, 2017 7:15 pm

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:52 pm
Rick Beauregard wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:42 pm
Journalists start with the headline, the conclusion, state the most important things first, then second most etc. until the last paragraphs which are less important, in case they have to be deleted to fit the column.
Sorry, but you are either joking or very naive. Take an average tabloid, and the article is written with the truth coming in the final sentence, in the hope that the average reader will give up before getting that far. Quotes are presented as fact a lot of the time because the readers are not intelligent enough to understand the significance of the quotation marks, and the headline comes last and is written by a sub-editor to put across the paper's political message, whether it agrees with the article or directly contradicts it! This deals with all those people who only graze headlines and it deals with commuters who read over people's shoulders. It also causes the persistent reader to read the whole article through a red mist and fail to see the truth unless abnormally vigilant.
You must be joking to put tabloids in the same category as journalism.
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Andrew Fryer » Sat Nov 04, 2017 7:27 pm

I think you need to ask yourself what is read by most news consumers.

Alternatively, go to journalism school, spend 3 years studying how James Stewart would have edited a newspaper in the 1930s, then go for an interview with Fox News. Lol.
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Rick Beauregard
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by Rick Beauregard » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:29 pm

I take your point. But most news “readers” get their news from (sadly) Facebook. I don’t think we’re talking about tabloids, faux news or 140 characters. Reality aside. Lol.
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Re: The Unwelcoming Style of (some) Academic Text Books

Post by PeteJ » Sun Nov 05, 2017 12:16 pm

MessyTendon wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:54 pm
Why are you wasting your time studying the past, when you can play the guitar in the present and future :)

Academia and academic culture is a diseased franchise of financially elite men and women who prey on the youth...to be students.
Yay! Another sceptic. It's too much of a generalisation and it would vary a lot with the subject-area but for the most part I'd agree with your assessment.

I came back into academic study late in life and being armed with more awareness than a twenty-year old am horrified at the incompetence, mediocrity, dishonesty and self-serving conformity to dogma and speculation. Philosophy is my thing and here the situation is chronic.

I write a lot and have spent many years trying to learn how to avoid an 'unwelcome style', but it's not easy. I fear that some innate talent may be required. Adrian mentions another problem, which is that many books could be cut down to a page without leaving out any important content.

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