“please be more academic in your writing…”

Recently, my wife had a marked assignment returned from an online B.C. university course she’s doing. The assignment was for a humanities related course – something to do with Canadian history. One of her instructor’s comments was: “please make an effort to sound more academic in your writing”.

“And there’s the issue”, I said.

Why is it that institutions of “higher learning” insist that all students adopt a form of speaking that we would not use to speak to our children, nor to our neighbors, nor to our mechanic?

I get the fact that, yes, if we’re talking to our mechanic she might start using language that we don’t follow. However, I generally say “whoa, whoa, can you just show me what you’re talking about?”

“Sure, here’s your distributor cap, and under here is… bla, bla, bla.” And I get a great explanation and in the meantime learn a bunch about my vehicle.

“Ok”, I say. “What’s an immediate priority and what can we leave for a bit.”

Or, if I’m at my dentist… “yeah, before you fire up that awful sounding drill could we have a discussion about what you’re about to do… and what’s that going to cost when you’re done?”

I’m guessing that when you go to school to become a mechanic – they don’t say “please, use more ‘mechanical’ language”. Or, at dentist school, do they insist on explaining root canal in the most fog-like manner possible?


We should be teaching people – especially people in government, or any organization with a variety of ‘stakeholders’ – how to speak in plain language. No, this is not “dumbing” it down. Do you think Obama goes home at the end of the day and explains to his girls the challenges of humanitarian aid in a disaster zone through the language of logistics, economics and United Nations bureaucratic bafflegab.


Generally, the large majority of jobs in government – with the exception of many administrative positions (i.e. the folks getting the most work done every day) – require a university degree. Yet, as demonstrated by my opening – and by my own ‘academic’ experience – why use “we’ll get ‘er done” when you can use “let’s implement a strategic benchmarking indicator process that utilizes complex factoral best practices”?

Why go directly face-to-face in communities, when you can have another peer-to-peer workshop or seminar with breakout groups and PowerPoint 2011 – where everyone speaks the same language. Where, instead of falling asleep in the hotel at night with visions of “sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads”; one falls asleep with “polynomial saccharide benevolent mythical beings performing rhythmical patterned successions in the upper division of their body containing the brain….”

When government suggests “open and transparent process” – what does that mean?

3 thoughts on ““please be more academic in your writing…”

  1. LAL

    Again, language is meant to communicate so why must we continually translate English into English? I get the fact that there are varying ‘levels’ of speak but why try to talk above people’s heads- just to confuse them or to bore them so no one takes interest and the bureaucrats get what they want?

  2. priscilla judd

    I love this post and I have another thought about language – the language of the law.

    Since we are obliged to uphold the law we must understand it – however, those who uphold the law (regulate the law) don’t seem to understand it, at least their non academic jargon doesn’t demonstrate an understanding.

    for example:
    As I recall, in recent testimony the head of DFO referred to his feelings – it went something like this: we just don’t FEEL that fish farms are a problem etc… ( I began to wonder if “feelings” were the legal bar for regulating fish farms).

    Meanwhile there are signs all across BC that state:
    Salmon habitat – protect our heritage
    which is not difficult to understand. One might expect the head of DFO to know what signs are posted on every salmon river in BC. The idea of protecting our salmon heritage seems to relate to feelings of responsibility to the future yet those non academic signs seem to elude some people who regulate the environment by their feelings.

    I suppose DFO feelings are warm frizzi fish farm friendly kind of feelings or maybe generous feelings or perhaps just good economic feelings. It might be worth investigating the value of feelings in our regulating schemes.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Priscilla,
    I had a lot of fun with that one – and at the same time, it’s an issue that drives me batty. No wait… I mean… the corticosteroids of my frontal lobe cortex begin to become elevated and the proposed best practices of Freudian psychology suggest…

    When we see colleagues or neighbors at the coffee shop we don’t start talking to them about how rainfall is approaching the benchmarks and best practices of the month of April. And thus, bafflegab and bumpf drives me nuts. Suggesting that 265 page documents, that are simply a “cut and paste” exercise from the year previous, comprise ‘public consultation’ is despicable.

    And, ghad forbid that we actually allow feelings, and maybe even emotional bias to enter government bureaucracy. It blows my mind that the legal system (i.e. upholding the Fisheries Act) is built upon ‘science’ which is supposed to be unbiased and unemotional, and both are built upon an education system that suggests one must remain objective, form hypotheses, and utilize critical thinking. And further theories that suggest education systems broaden horizons – when my experience has been that they narrow focuses down to the most minuscule degree. (not to suggest that there aren’t some great exceptions to this)

    If I hear one more scientist state: “well… I can’t comment on that I’m not an economist”; I might have to… well, I don’t know. However, my response is generally along the lines of: “do you have a bank account? do you shop at a grocery store? do you understand the idea of supply and demand?… well, then I think you can make a comment on economics.”

    It truly is a story of a dog chasing it’s tail, chasing a dog chasing it’s tail, chasing a dog…. and so on, and so on. Why government bureaucracies, and the legal institutions that support them, suggest we have to lean towards “objective” thought – or a lack of feelings or opinion – is beyond me. Is someone that works in the Social Services ministries not supposed to care about kids? What about teachers? Should not someone working in Fisheries and Oceans have a strong connection to wild salmon and salmon culture?

    And yet, I sat in a meeting recently and listened to a senior manager within DFO explain her recent “lateral” move within the ministry from the East Coast to the West Coast – and ghad knows we know what happened on the east coast….

    thanks Priscilla, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ll probably have more on academic language and bumpf-ology. As, until the discussions of looking after wild salmon, and thus developing ‘management’ plans returns to the language of communities… we have a bit of a losing battle.

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