Please welcome freelance content writer Jessica Freeman from Sydney, Australia, who shares her thoughts on why academic writing has become so boring to read … plus some ways in which to make it more reader-friendly. Over to Jessica…
Academic writing exists only to share knowledge and ideas. Sadly, we have created a culture where students are trained to create sterile and clinical documents. Academic work tends to be very technical, and students are afraid to add a little flair or entertainment value through fear of losing marks when they are graded.
This habit of writing sterile and clinical documents then follows the academic through his or her life and few academics ever learn how to write entertaining texts.
Are academic works really that boring?
If you have ever read a top-scoring essay, you will probably be bowled over by just how boring it is. Some top-scoring essays are so mechanical that it is like reading the user manual for a Hadron Collider. Academic text isn’t created to be entertaining, so students have to make the best of what they have and curb their artistic and entertaining impulses, but is that the best move?
There may be a surreptitious reason for making your essay more entertaining. It is common knowledge that teachers and professors hate grading papers, and who can blame them if all academic texts are boring? Even if your essay is 1% more entertaining than the last, it may mean a great deal to the professor who one assumes is bored, sick, and tired of marking these works.
Make your academic text more entertaining
One way of making your text slightly less boring is to put the weight of fact-elaboration on the part of the reader. Rely more heavily on your resources/source where you make numerous references for each fact so that your readers may look up further details without you having to lay them out yourself.
Obviously, you are going to have to add some details to your essay; you can’t make a point with a single line and then give six sources, but you can add a few sentences for a point and then add two or three sources so that the reader may look up any extra details him or herself.
Some students do not like leaving out details. They prefer to elaborate on each point they make and drone on with detail after boring detail. There are two reasons for this. The first is because students are afraid that if they do not elaborate on a fact that they will be penalized by their professor.
The second is because adding micro-elaborations (as opposed to full elaborations) count towards the word count and the last thing a student wants is to complete an essay only to find it is 1000 words short. They would prefer to fully expand on each point with plenty of details because it eats up their word count.
Make the text more concise
As a side effect of the tip above, you may find that your text is more concise and less wordy than usual. That is a good thing because a fluffy essay is a dull essay. If it’s concise, then that suggests you will not reach the total word count…doesn’t it?
The easiest way to avoid this is to over-write your essay by a long stretch before you start to edit or finish it. Let your mind race and write down what comes to mind. Start your essay the first day you receive it so that all your ideas are fresh in your mind, and then just pour them into the first draft like a barrel of oil into an industrial deep fat fryer.
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Do not worry too much about getting the details right or proving your point while you are pouring ideas and content in. You can always research and find evidence for your points at a later date after you have written them. You can go back over your essay, pick up each point, research it, prove it, and add the source. This actually is far easier than trying to research, write a little, research, write a little, and so on.
Type away to your heart’s content without worrying about word count. When you are at least 20-30% over your word count, you can start editing your work down to make it more concise. It is far easier to edit down a large essay than it is to expand an essay after you have finished.
Add real-life and provable examples
Expert essay writers make their text a little less dull by adding examples to go with the points they have made. For example, you may have written about how Pavlov used different sounds when testing on dogs, but you may quash the myth that he used bells, and then go on to give examples of scientists that followed Pavlov’s work and did use bells.
Do not go off on a tangent. Simply give people a short example to go with the point you are making. It may seem like a waste of word count, but many marking guides tell professors to look for demonstrations of deep research, and providing real-world examples to prove your point is one way of demonstrating such deep research.
Add a funny line here or there
Warning lights are probably flashing in your head at this point because humor has no place in academic texts. However, a clever joke that is on topic may help to prove to your professor that you are both knowledgeable and confident in your answers.
Do not forget that the person reading and marking your paper is a human and not a machine. Slip in a clever joke that relates to your topic and has an academic twist.
For example, if you are writing an essay on the uncertainty principle and you have just mentioned a failed experiment by the German theoretical physicist Werner Karl Heisenberg. You could say that Heisenberg was as sad as Schrödinger when nobody turned up to his cat’s birthday/funeral. It is clever, and it shows that you have knowledge beyond the specific topic you are covering in your essay.
Academic writing has its own unique structure, and writers are not penalized for being boring. It is sad that students are encouraged to follow essay structures without deviation, and it is a shame that students feel afraid to add a little entertainment value into their essays for fear of losing marks. Re-read the tips in this article and take a chance on writing an essay that is not as dry, sterile or clinical as usual. You may be surprised by the results.
Jessica Freeman is a freelance writer in Sydney, Australia.
She is interested in traveling and online learning.
She enjoys writing on education, technology innovations, and blogging tendencies.