Help, don’t snark

August 4, 2016

Academic writing is an easy target: there’s so much of it, and not all of it is good. Understanding and detailing good practice is much harder to do. Zachary Foster’s list of bad writing tics (“How not to write: 14 tips for aspiring humanities academics”, Opinion, 7 July) is a snide and rather clichéd demolition of academic writing, most of which is uncontroversial: scare quotes, neologisms, the passive voice. However, underlying his assassination is a more political contempt. This is especially clear in the section on “Agency”, which is not about style but, rather, kicks against the possibility that colonised or subaltern groups always subvert, adapt or have prior knowledge of imposed ideas. Don’t they?

Writing is hard, and lots of our colleagues have spent their careers learning to do it well. Where can we read about their example and see it broken down into “tips and tricks”? Let’s celebrate our best academic writers, rather than just sneering as if from outside.

Isabel Davis
Birkbeck, University of London


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