Grammar and Style
Understanding the Traditional Expectations of Academic and Professional Writing
Writing Conventions Change with Genre
When someone "communicates well," they clearly share information to their intended audience. If the intended audience is professors at an academic conference, this might involve a 20-minute talk with several slides. If it's a daycare center, then it's "Yay! You went potty!! Good job!!!"
This highlights something very, very important: communicating well in one situation does not mean you communicate well in another. Case in point: I have a Ph.D. in English, and sometimes I write material that is very, very irritating for my students. Like this sentence — it's an original draft from the paragraph above:
- When we talk about someone who "communicates well," what we mean is that they are good at using words in ways that their intended audiences will understand and appreciate.
Notice that my original draft dodges around the main point — rather than saying "this is how people communicate well," it uses "when we talk about" and "what we mean is." By academic standards, this is actually a good strategy — we call it hedging. Through hedging, I've added disclaimers to my sentence. In case someone disagrees with my definition of "communicating well," I could simply say "Oh, I'm referring to the everyday definition that most people use, not the actual definition. Because debating the actual definition might trigger a flame war."
Grammar versus Style
First, let's differentiate between the two big measures of "good" versus "bad" writing:
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