Writing Pet Peeves or my “Old Man Yells at Cloud” post

I’ve been marking assignments recently, as well as reading a lot of research for a scoping review, and both of these tasks have struck a nerve with me. There is a lot of bad writing out there. Writing that hurts my brain and I feel the need to vent.

A few caveats:

  1. I’m not brilliant at writing (I just work hard at it)
  2. English wasn’t my first language
  3. I’ve done a lot of bad writing, especially in my undergraduate years
  4. My writing will never be perfect but, with the help of kindly co-authors and reviewers, I will always strive for improvement

So, I’m writing this post partly to a “past me” who could have benefitted from this and partly for anyone else who is in the mood to be angry at academic writing with me. On to the list of pet peeves:

Using Acronyms and Abbreviations

As an undergraduate, I would write an assignment and be way over the word limit. But I had a trick up my sleeve, just replace every instance of “Emotional Intelligence” with EI. Brilliant, my word count had significantly reduced. Then I would find other words to abbreviate and continue with this trick until I was under the word limit. Now, as a marker, my brain melts when I see sentences like this: 

“Although EI is vital in understanding SI, you cannot underestimate the importance of GAD and ToM in this area. Especially when ASD has been found to affect both SAD and AQ.” 

And this is even more frequent in published papers. Science is becoming unreadable. Every additional abbreviation in a document adds to the reader’s working memory load. I spend so much time remembering what all the abbreviations mean, I find it hard to grasp the main point of the writing. I’ve made a rule for myself: if I must have an abbreviation in something I am writing, then I only have one.

Redundancy

Redundancy in writing is frustrating, especially when it is combined with excessive abbreviations. For example, “this research study….” Why not just say “study” or “research”? Why both? These are writing habits we’ve picked up on the way and we use them mindlessly in our writing, probably just to get something on the page, and that is fine. The first draft is always hard to write. But then we should all go back and mindfully review our writing and delete those redundancies. Concise writing takes work and mindful attention.

Complexity in word choice

Just because you’re an academic doesn’t mean your work needs to be unreadable. Sometimes, when an author is using complex words, I visualise them sitting around in top hats and monocles looking at me as if I were stupid. Scientific writing shouldn’t make the reader feel stupid, it should make them feel informed. A writer should always be teaching with their writing, not signalling that they are in a snooty academic club. This applies to you whether you are an undergraduate student or a professor (e.g., use vs utilise, in contrast vs. contrarily etc). Use simple words that are used commonly rather than rare words and make sure you are writing for a general academic audience, not just the 5 people in your field.

Complexity in sentence structure or paragraph structure

When a piece of writing has long complex sentence after long complex sentence, it’s exhausting to read and hard to process. I’ve linked two twitter threads below that discuss not just writing, but also how to structure a paragraph in an informative way.

However, for me, I like to drop a paragraph of my writing onto this site. It’s just a great way to visualise how many complex sentences you have and where you could make things simpler.

I’ve come to the end of my rant. Thank you for reading. Do you have any writing pet peeves?

– Alessa

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