“Academic-ese”

I had my first seminar of my new course yesterday. It wasn’t too stressful, more an introduction to the module from our tutor.

It was a relief, actually, because I had panicked after printing off an article on our recommended reading list.

I was a student once and I remember how irritating it was when academics invented their own impenetrable language to write papers. But the abstract I read yesterday really made my eyes water:

This paper offers a conceptual framework for filling a void in the research on convergence and for extending research into gatekeeping and diffusion of innovation. It offers the Convergence Continuum as a dynamic model that defines news convergence as a series of behavior-based activities illustrating the interaction and cooperation levels of staff members at newspapers, television stations and Web organizations with news partnerships. The continuum’s components provide media professionals with a touchstone as they develop cross-media alliances.

Conceptual framework? Gatekeeping? Touchstone? Argh! And that’s only the abstract – this thing goes on in a similar vein for another 30 pages!

After reading the paragraph three times, I think it means the paper is offering a guide to what media organisations should do when they want to start using lots of different methods to reach their audience. Am I right? I’m not sure! Answers on a postcard, please.

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9 Responses to ““Academic-ese””


  1. 1 Dave Harte January 10, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Rather than a guide it sounds like it’s suggesting a new way to research some of the issues around convergence. The author is probably hoping that other academics pick up on the usefulness of the ‘Convergence Continuum’ rather than necessarily expecting media workers themselves to get to grips with it.

    I see the paper in question is by American academics who want nothing less than to set out a “a common standard of measurement – the Convergence Continuum Model.”

    Actually, as a journalist you’ll no doubt be pulling out the snazzy diagram of the Convergence Continuum the next time there’s any re-organisation at the Post: “The nonjudgmental design of the Convergence Continuum also provides the flexibility to examine gatekeeping issues even when individuals resist manager-designed convergence plans.”

    Dave

  2. 2 joannageary January 10, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Dave: Thanks for the translation! Perhaps you need to add an academic paper summary blog to your policy translation one – it would certainly be of benefit to me!

    What seems odd about this paper is, when the subject is so practical and relevent, why use language in a way that alienates media workers from the research findings?!

  3. 3 Charlotte January 10, 2008 at 11:49 am

    This is funny – I read and write academic papers (all day long at the moment)and am always aware of how little sense some make (not mine I hope). A likely translation:

    This paper offers a diagram which illustrates the lack of research on convergence and the need for more research into who does and talks about innovation. It offers a diagram that illustrates news convergence as a series of behavior-based activities, specifically, illustrating the interaction and cooperation levels of staff members at newspapers, television stations and web organizations with news partnerships. The diagram provides other academics a model to cite and, if they ever clap eyes on it, media professionals with a diagram as a basis to develop cross-media alliances.

  4. 4 Dave Harte January 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    And just to reiterate that this is an American piece of Mass Communication research so that explains the emphasis on diagrams and models as ‘solutions’. If it were from a British academic tradition then there would be less modelling and more critiquing. The emphasis on empowering media workers may still be there but probably as a means for them to begin to understand the corporate capitalist conspiracy that they unknowingly propogate as part of their jobs. Of course there would still be lots of big words in there as well….

    Dave

  5. 5 Nick January 10, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    I’m of the firm conviction that most things that are hard to understand are simply badly written.
    If John Gribbin can make Chaos Theory easy to understand then there is no excuse for that kind of writing.

  6. 6 Charlotte January 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Okay I hadn’t noticed that the diagram thing was more U.S – poss not in business management academic pursuit. I have just observed at conferences whenever someone discusses a conceptual model it’s basically a diagram. some boxes and arrows, text – sometimes circles – diamonds popular too -Oh and cycles, obviously. As someone who did the whole art school thing I realised ‘oh right it’s a visual – someone is visualising their idea’ now I understand. But of course I might really just be missing something very clever.

    C

  7. 7 dp January 10, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    In agreement with Nick (& possibly G. Orwell also). The authors are either trying to hide something or are not clear about what they want to say. I suspect the latter.

    For an abstract it’s a bit short. Double the length would give ample space to explain themselves more clearly. They could then introduce the paper with a provisional explanation of convergence. That they don’t is just more evidence of poor presentation.

    More broadly, the paper is a good example of bad writing or of poor thinking written accurately. Many academics write very well – but their academese escapes notice. So it doesn’t make sense to describe the writing as academese. That shoe doesn’t fit so well.

    I hope your course offers more and better.

  8. 8 Ben January 22, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Jo – I don’t understand it either if that’s any comfort to you – and I’m on the same course!
    As a journalist sentences like those are an anathema to me – after all, we aim to make things as clear as we can, whereas that’s trying to make it more complex for no good reason apart from portraying a fairly simple concept in as academic a way as possible.

  9. 9 Dave Harte February 18, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    I know I’m returing to this rather late but there’s a useful post on Andrew Dubber’s ‘Uni Survival Guide’ website that suggests how to approach academic texts. His key point is worth bearing in mind given your initial post and some of the subsequent posts:

    “Academic writing, despite the attempts of textbooks, crib sheets, Wikis and so on is not simply reducible to ‘key’ points, it is about the location and justification of ideas, the development of argument and insight and the employment of detail and evidence.”

    Dave


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