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Myth 3:

Academic writing is supposed to consist of big, boring words.

Some Students' Reasoning: Academic discourse is hard to read, and half of the time when I am writing it, I don't even know what I'm saying, but I still get a B. Thus, "It's the stuffy b.s. we use to impress profs."

Some Professors' Reply: Academic writing represents the use of rigorous logic and the specialized terms of experts.

Some Suggestions:

  1. Tackle the problem directly. As Al DiChiara admits, "a stilted, ponderous writing style has become an unwanted hallmark of sociology . . . . [and] perhaps in other disciplines as well."

    Also admit that, as students learn to write in an academic style, they have to engage in a bluff because they still are struggling to understand its logic, its conventions, and its specialized terms. However, add next that academic writing is not only a matter of bluffing.

  2. Ask students to practice what Peter Elbow terms "discursive variation." For example, when Computer Science students are asked to apply "the concept of downward compatibility" to "specific operating system versions," they first are asked to explain this concept "in [their] own words."

    When Candance Clements asks her Art History students to analyze a painting using terms like value, rhythm, and texture, it might be useful to ask students to define each term in their own words and to consider why these specialized terms exist at all. Soon that "stuffy b.s." will be reconceived, as a former student stated, to be "a more convenient, more accurate language."

MINIMUM CLASS TIME: 15-30 minutes
CORRECTING TIME: may decrease