Date of Graduation
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
School of Education
International and Multicultural Education
International & Multicultural Education EdD
This qualitative dissertation investigated possible causes and cures for unclear scholarly writing. For this study, a stipulative definition of unclear scholarly writing, or “academese,” is that the language tends to be vague and verbose. The problem, according to the included literature, is that people who use or accept vague language have less academic, social, professional, and civic power. Academese, some say, can detach readers and that can accordingly diminish collective exchange. Because higher education is meant to share knowledge, promote agency, and prepare students to communicate powerfully within and beyond the university, this study researched the causes and cures of vague or verbose scholarly writing.
Orwell (2012) detailed the dangerous consequences of vague or verbose political language, yet he connected that style to inherited traditions in academia. To evaluate inherited traditions of scholarly language, this study relied on the theoretical framework of Discursive Psychology, which integrates the theory of poststructuralism. Poststructuralists like Foucault posit that when we unconsciously inherit and accept fixed premises, we fail to evaluate if those premises are serving or constraining us. To create movement within those constraints (and work toward agency), poststructuralists say we should widen our lens and take a macro look at institutional structures (such as schools) and premises (such as assumed social roles). In addition to poststructuralism, Discursive Psychology draws from sociolinguistics, which examines the connection between language and social roles, such as the notion, or premise, that high language reflects high education.
To investigate that premise as well as the kind of language that reflects higher education, this qualitative study questioned 99 participants: 93 undergraduate students and 6 professors, all of whom were purposely selected for diversity and different levels of academic experience. The selected students were enrolled in a second-level required rhetoric and writing class, and so they were in the process learning how to transfer those writing skills to other disciplines. While the students were asked their perceptions of the kind of academic writing they needed to master, the professors were asked their perceptions of academic writing as well as possible causes and cures for academese.
The data—which was categorized, verified, and analyzed—revealed key findings. One finding was the disjunction between what the professors were teaching and what the students were learning. Another finding was that academics tend to use academese when they want present themselves as advanced scholars, when they want to belong to a discipline, and when they want to advance in a particular discipline. This insulation seemed to hinder audience awareness and the accessibility of the language.
To write more accessibly, the professors encouraged their students to use simple language and weave in elements of story, for a storytelling approach seemed to connect with readers and clear up the language. However, another inference was that many professors of diverse disciplines (busy teaching their own subjects) relied on writing instructors to teach clear prose. While the data suggested that writing instructors should integrate and reinforce more exercises in precision, story, and audience awareness, it also suggested that two required academic writing classes may not be enough for students to transfer and sustain a clear writing style.
Suggestions for curriculum change are to require all university students to take an advanced composition, rhetoric, or creative writing class. Because other disciplines (particularly the social sciences) were imputed to have a tradition of vague writing, more instruction from those who are trained to teach writing—as opposed to those trained in other disciplines—could likely help students and future scholars write more clearly within and beyond the university.
Mahony, M. I. (2018). Investigating the Causes and Cures for Unclear Scholarly Writing. Retrieved from https://repository.usfca.edu/diss/443