Columnist says academics should take a page from journalists to avoid irrelevancy

March 24, 2015

Academics looking to make their work more relevant in the so-called "real world" should start by evaluating their own writing, says Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd. Todd cites writers Michael Billig and Helen Sword, both of whom have urged their fellow academics to write in a more accessible style. Billig says that young scholars are encouraged to write poorly by their teachers and mentors, and notes that he has spoken with many who have said that they need the security of tenure to begin to write well. As one possible solution, Sword suggests that academics should turn to anecdotes and personal pronouns more often. Todd acknowledges that while some topics require difficult or highly technical language, academic authors could learn from journalists. He says that if academics do not learn to communicate their ideas to non-academic audiences, they risk becoming irrelevant to the public; he also encourages scholars to engage more often with "the burning issues of our day" and to write more concisely, plainly, and with more verbs. However, Todd also concedes that journalists could learn from scholars, who can offer informed perspectives on many social issues. Vancouver Sun