From the Letters to the Editor column of the October 2010 issue of Perspectives on History
Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be sent to Letters to the Editor (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives on History, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.
On Academic Writing
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to Gordon S. Wood’s article “In Defense of Academic Writing.” Wood in my view conflates two issues: analytic writing and writing style. One can write an analytic work and still write with much better style, and thus produce much more readable prose, than many academics do today. Learning to write well is independent of whether one writes in a narrative or analytical format and structure. I have spent many years working at learning to write well in terms of style, and I hope that some of the fruits of my labors are evident in my most recent book, which combines narrative and analysisit is not always necessary to confine a book to only one approach. Here are a few tips I gained from my writing workshops that all academics who wish to have their writing, regardless of the subject matter, reach a wider audience should consider: 1. avoid the passive voiceit puts a barrier between writer and reader and often results in unnecessarily convoluted writing; 2. avoid jargon, for the same reasons; 3. pay attention to sentence structure and cadenceuse strong, direct, nouns and verbs and vary the structure of your sentences. These are not intellectually difficult to master, but they do mean that writers who wish to write well must pay attention to their writing, to how they say things as well as to their content, to what they wish to say. And that is true of any kind of writing aimed for any audience, if it is to be truly effective and enjoyable to read.
Gayle K. Brunelle
California State University at Fullerton
Copyright © American Historical AssociationLast Updated: September 26, 2010 7:34 PM