A great deal of academic writing is convoluted and dull (well, at least what I’ve been reading), and the American trend of using ungrammatical jargon to dress up second-rate thinking is sadly spreading to the UK.
But it doesn’t have to be that way – Nabokov’s scientific writings on butterflies have a lyrical quality, while Russell’s works on philosophy are clear and concise.
I have found George Orwell’s rules of writing to be very helpful:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never us a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
From Politics and the English Language (1946) – http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi/work/essays/language.html
Bertrand Russell also wrote a short essay entitled How I Write (1954) – http://www.davemckay.co.uk/philosophy/russell/russell.php?name=how.i.write
- The King’s English by H.W. Fowler (2nd edition) – http://www.bartleby.com/116/
- Chicago Manual of Style Online – http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/
- Economist Style Guide – http://www.economist.com/research/styleGuide/