How to write competent academic/bureaucratic prose



Although science and the rest of the world will be better off if you write directly and vigorously, you might occasionally want some of the stiffness and stasis of the academic style. Consider that most writers who write academically do so without awareness of style. They do not consciously select their subjects and verb but rather mimic a formality that sounds important and right, even if it is not. They unconsciously produce dead prose.


But once you are aware of how subjects and verbs and other elements work together to make sense or not, you can write in an academic style that is more effective or is at least not disastrous. To see how this could happen, let's briefly review the characteristics of academic prose.


            Academic prose:


                        emphasizes nouns, and especially abstract nouns;


                        emphasizes static verbs;


                        inflates and embellishes;


                        and produces long, complex sentences.                       


As a consequence, academic prose usually lacks cohesion, coherence, rhythm, and emphasis. Moreover, academic prose often contains dangling modifiers, nonparallel elements, and other problems because it is easy to make grammatical mistakes when we unconsciously and uncritically use long and complex sentences.


Suppose you decided to write in academic style that was competent, that did not produce the typical academic slop. You would:


           temper your use of abstract nouns;

                        emphasize transitive passive verbs rather than to be verbs;


                        keep the subject and verb close together;


                        minimize prepositional phrase strings;


                        use no prefabricated expressions;


                        maintain sentence cohesion (by using both static and action verbs as needed);


                        maintain paragraph coherence;


                        control sentence length and complexity so that the reader can quickly find the subject and verb of every clause;


                        control sentence length and complexity so that the reader can quickly determine

                                    which adjective or adjective phrase is modifying which noun and

                                    which adverb or adverbial phrase is modifying which verb.


                        vary sentence length;


                        commit none of the common or uncommon grammatical errors.



The result might not be exciting or even easy to read but it would be better than the standard mess of words, phrases, and clauses that typifies academic writing.