Research can be challenging, consuming years of time, mountains of money, and unimaginable amounts of effort. However, while the writing of the research manuscript itself gets less attention, it is of paramount importance and can have a disproportionate influence on its subsequent impact.
One universally recognized quality of academic writing is undoubtedly its complexity. While some writers may deliberately complicate their writing to appear more intelligent, notably, a study on student writers has shown that it may in fact have the opposite effect. Moreover, and perhaps most relevant to academic professionals, a study in the Journal of Marketing has shown that journal articles using more abstract and technical language are perceived less favorably and are actually less likely to be cited. Despite this, a phenomenon called “the curse of knowledge”, where experts familiar with their own fields tend to instinctively default to technical and abstract language, makes it difficult for researchers to notice the negative impact this has on their own writing.
How best to encourage awareness of this problem among academics, and further, how to solve it, are difficult problems. However, some journals now state a preference for simpler and easier-to-understand language in their instructions to authors, and the authors of the Journal of Marketing paper suggest getting someone from outside your field to read your writing. They have also created a free-to-use writing clarity calculator.
The takeaway is that clarity and simplicity can translate into greater impact. And, with this awareness, we can use the tools at our disposal to work toward dispelling the aforementioned “curse” to improve our writing and increase our reach.
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