How To Make Academic Texts More Readable


Having spent the last four years as a preferred supplier to one of Sweden’s universities, I’ve done my fair share of proof-reading and editing academic and scientific texts. So, it made a fresh change when a corporate client recently asked me to translate some climate-research texts for a children’s science experience centre. “Please use language that 10–13-year-olds can understand,” was the request from the client. What fun!

But it made me think… why do academic texts, research papers, theses and so on have to be stuffy and complicated anyway?

I get it, there’s often a required structure to the text to show the robustness of the research. Abstract, Research Question, Existing Theory, Methodology and so on. And naturally the subject matter often entails convoluted vocabulary that would discombobulate even the brainiest of us (to make a point). Of course, such texts by their very nature need to be factual, no emotions, no opinions, no sensationalism, no first person. Not forgetting that scientific texts written in English are often intended for international journals and audiences, so colloquialism is completely inappropriate too.

So sure, I get it – formal, factual, format, third person (I so wanted to write “FERD” to exaggerate the alliteration)… but none of this means complex, multi-clausal sentences. Nor does the same point need to be said in several ways if it is written clearly once or twice. Looooong paragraphs can become far easier to digest if a bullet list can be used – or if they can be broken down into shorter bite-sized sentences. Furthermore, it can’t be such a writing crime to use some neat connecting words to link one idea to the next, can it?

Scientists, researchers, academics of the world… wouldn’t you also prefer reading texts from your peers if they were clearer and more concise, while of course still correct and appropriately formal?

Is your report complete? If you are reporting to certain standards, directives or reporting frameworks, double-check that you have included all the data required according to that directive.

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