14 August 2013

How to write badly :-)

I'm reading, for review in Information Research, Michael Billig's "Learn to write badly: how to succeed in the social sciences" - which I guess will offend many of his fellow social scientists, but which I find an absolute joy. If you want to know what is wrong with academic writing, read this book - and reform your ways :-)
Here's just one of many, many quotable pieces:
Certainly the big words can provide the means to academic success in the social sciences, for it is professionally advantageous to be an expert in a particular ization or ification - and better still to be known as the inventor of an ization or ification. Yet, like cigarettes and alcohol, these big words should come with warnings. If one looks closely at them - more closely than most social scientists normally do, especially those who are regular users - they can flatter to deceive. Often our social scientific izations or ifications provide only the appearance of technical advance and precision. We should remember that all that glitters is not the product of aurification.
Information science is not immune to the creeping izations and ifications, nor to another of Billig's themes - the nounification of the world - removing people from sentences, along with the verbs. We're familiar with the kind of noun phrase that Billig point to like the Umpire Decision Referral System he mentions - which, of course, gets abbreviated to UDRS. No verbs, you notice - and no real meaning. You have to either know about cricket, or get someone to help you to understand what it is. If it is a system for referring the decisions made by umpires, what are those decisions referred to? Nounification does not make things precise, but more obscure. I could probably find many examples in the information science literature if I tried!