Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Behind the Books: More Struggling with Academic Texts

Back on June 9, I wrote this post after reading an article that really bugged me in Science. I received such fantastic feedback from readers here and on the I.N.K. blog (where I cross posted) that I decided to edit the post and submit it to Science’s Letters to the Editor section. I didn’t really think it would get published, but it never hurts to try, right?

A few weeks later, the Letters Editor contacted me and said she’d be running my letter in the August 13 issue of Science. Yippee!

I was out of town on August 13, and when I returned, my email in-box was crammed with responses to the letter. Most were written by scientists who thanked me for my letter and said the completely agreed with my point of view. Some said they tried to write in a clearer, more lively way now than when they began their academic careers.

But a few letters pointed out a problem I hadn’t considered. These scientists said that when they tried to use language that was accessible, and engaging, their papers were rejected by the journals as not being written in a suitable way. When they grudgingly added jargon and made the sentences more complex and then resubmitted their reports, they were accepted. Hmmph.

Those scientists are frustrated. They want to see changes in academic langauge, but the “gatekeepers” are thwarting their efforts. It hadn’t occurred to me that the journals themselves might be preventing changes that the scientists desire. If that is indeed the case, then I truly hope that at least a few editors of academic journals read my letter and are currently mulling over my concerns.

Change happens one step at a time. I hope the journal editors will take that first important step.

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