On Academic Texts.

08 Sep

I see myself as a pretty smart girl. I’m not super intelligent; I never got an A* in my GCSEs for example. But for the amount of work that I do (the bare minimum, most of the time), I don’t think I fare too badly.

I also read a lot. My mom loves reading, and enrolled me at the library the second I could turn a page.  I sometimes think, however, I have picked the wrong books to read. Because when it comes to academic texts, I feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall.

I never read classics, being annoyed, first of all, by the simpering female characters, and secondly by the language. I got through the Shakespeare component of my GCSEs with the help of the CGP guides. No Fear Shakespeare saw me get an A on my paper for The Tempest in my A Levels. (I got a D overall, so I dread to think how badly I scored on the other papers! Then again, I didn’t read the book. I don’t even remember what the book was!)

Being forced to study English Literature at school, and then again at college (it was part of the ‘Drama Package’, but I was allowed to drop it in the second year) really killed my love of reading for a fair few years, and I sometimes think it still has, to a certain extent.


I have been trying to read the texts I was advised to pick for my final big essay, or EMA. I struggled with Peter Bürger’s 1974 text of 5-odd pages for an hour, but I got there. I have a vague understanding of what he is getting at. Then I tried to read Benjamin Buchloh’s. ‘Oh,’ I thought to myself, ‘it was only written in 1986. This will be a doddle!’

Famous last thoughts.

It was NOT a doddle. It was like wading through treacle. Treacle that has been left out for days, and has started to set. I read all 8 pages, and have made one highlight. ONE. I have no idea what the hell he was talking about. Something about Yves Klein and Malevich, but everything else has blurred together into one impenetrable mass. I think to get through it I am going to take it into work on Saturday and read it verrrry slowly, one paragraph at a time, with a dictionary by my side.


I honestly believe that the majority of academic writers try to out-pompous each other. Instead of writing what they mean, they use all these stupid words that the average person doesn’t even know, and then they use them all together, in one big huge long sentence.

Call me stupid, but my idea of good writing is not writing where I have to look every other word up in the dictionary, and STILL be none the wiser.


I believe there was a writer who once said why use a large word when a small one will suffice? In googling that I came across this:

Small words have the largest impact. Small words can become the hammer to drive your point home, while big words tend to soften the blow.

Culled from a recent paper: “The panel felt the Senator was being disingenuous.”

What? Lacking in frankness or candor? He prevaricated? Equivocated? Misrepresented? Fabricated? Do any of those words come close to the power of, The panel felt the Senator lied? Everyone understands the word lie. None of the other words carry the clear meaning that lie conveys.



People who use large words in order to show off are not my friends. Why not make your work accessible to everyone, even lay people, instead of a small group of other academics?


UGH. Rant over!

Nikki x

PS If anyone wants to help me with Buchloh’s essay, dear god please do!

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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in Academia


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