From the Letters to the Editor column of the October 2010 issue of Perspectives on History

On Academic Writing

Gayle K. Brunelle, October 2013

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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 analysis—it 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 voice—it 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 cadence—use 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, Fullerton