Thursday, March 13, 2008

Academics: write coherently

I love my Religion and Society class. A lot. One of the only things I have to complain about is some of the readings I have to do. Peter Berger, I'm talking to you. I hate the way you write and others like you. Do you write to be understood? No. I can only think that you're hoping you'll only be understood by the upper crust of academia in the religious sociological world, and not the average Joe, who almost has a Bachelor's degree in communication. What it looks like to me is that you're striving to be elitist to stroke your own ego and have other academics tell you how great you are. It drives me crazy. When you're trying to get your ideas out into the world, keep them coherent so the average person of the world can read them without wanting to cry and throw up simultaneously.

"Let's use 100 obscure words where 10 well-understood ones will do," they say, as they type away, frequently glancing at their Thesaurus.

I mean, I'm surprised they use such easy-to-use words as "the" and "an." Probably because there aren't really any substitutes for those words. But really, there shouldn't be substitutes for other words, either. When my professor translates what he meant to say there's a general feeling of "Oh! That's what he's saying -- or attempting to say," throughout the class. That, and the thought goes out, "Then why didn't he just say it that way?"

Now, I understand that there are some words or ideas that you can't just dumb down or simplify, mainly for the reason that there aren't other words that will sufficiently take their place. But take, for example, Stark and Finke, who wrote a marvelous book that I actually understand! Today my professor told me why I understand them so much better than Berger when, essentially, they're all saying the same thing. Stark was a journalist at one time. We speak soul to soul -- I swear. He and Finke are sometimes long-winded, but for the most part he's clear and concise, even with ideas that Berger took 48 pages to expell.

In the spirit of such Stark-ness, I will end this post now.


Brandon said...

Sportswriter and broadcaster Todd Christensen does the same thing. I swear the guy has a thesaurus handy at all times when writing his columns... the man uses more obscure words than anyone I've ever read in a newspaper.

Using big words to confuse your readers is not impressive. It's bad communication.

Anna said...

ha ha. hey by the way. I thought of you today when I saw a job posting for a newspaper in Park City. I'm not sure if you're job hunting, but if you are...there it is.

Becky said...

Amy I work with one of these said overly academic people. He has 5 degrees, none of them in anything fantastic but he uses about 1000 words to say 1 sentence. It is ridiculous! One day I actually said, "Why don't you just say what you mean?" He also likes to trick people into thinking he is flattering them but really he is flattering himself.

jes may said...

Amy darling,
Welcome to the world of Sociology! I think every theorist annoyingly does the exact same thing! We have a joke that there are two things that make a person a sociology:
1. They can't write what they want to say the simple easy to understand way
2. They whine constantly about the world's problems, yet, don't do anything about them because they are too busy researching.

I can say that because I am a sociology major.. echk- a sociologist, as I now should be calling myself. :)