Five Characteristics of Academic or Bureaucratic Prose

The term academic prose (synonymous with academese, bureaucratese, and legalese) indicates an inflated and static writing style, one that is usually less effective than a direct and lean style.

To characterize academic prose, I have told a simple story below (farmer fumigates field) in a direct and lean style and then in an increasingly academic style.

Here are the five characteristics of academic/scholarly prose:

1. Academic prose emphasizes nouns rather than verbs. What happens to the verb fumigated in the academic example? What happens to the action in the verb?

Direct and lean: The farmer fumigated verb his field.

Academic: A fumigation noun occurred.

An abstract noun derived from a verb or an adjective is called a nominalization. Fumigation is a nominalization (as is nominalization).

2. Academic prose uses static verbs rather than action verbs. What happens to the transitive active verb in the academic example? Again, in which example is the action easier to follow? I realize that neither is difficult in this case, but is it easier to understand what happens if you immediately know who does the action or if you must wait?

Direct and lean : The farmer fumigatedtransitive active his field.

Academic: The field was fumigated transitive passive by the farmer.

When characteristics 1 and 2 are combined, the statement becomes abstract, indefinite.

Academic: A fumigation occurred. or A fumigation was needed. or There is need for fumigation.

3. Inflation and embellishment characterize academic prose. Direct and lean: rats, farm workers, house. Academic: small faunal species, agricultural laborers, residential facilities.

4. and 5. Academic prose is also characterized by long and complex sentences.

Direct and lean: Because rats infested the house, the farm workers refused to enter.

Academic: In so far as manifestations of infestation by a small faunal species were evident in the residential facilities provided for the agricultural laborers, an unwillingness to occupy, utilize, or in any manner inhabit the facilities was therefore demonstrated by the aforementioned laborers.

Note that the last sentence demonstrates all five characteristics of academic prose.

Below I have tried to change, in steps, a direct and lean sentence into various stages of 'academese' or scholarly prose, emphasizing decreased action and increased abstraction.


The farmer fumigated his field.

The field was fumigated by the farmer*.

To conduct the fumigation, a fumigant-type chemical was applied.

There was a fumigation event in the agricultural production zone.


*The simple use of passive voice does not make a style academic - but it helps!


Is there a more effective form of academic or bureaucratic prose?