If you run into Olin’s Erik Dane at an academic conference, watch out.
Dane, an associate professor of organizational behavior, will be happy to talk with you about data you’re analyzing, methodological trends, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the endorphins of running.
But he and his coauthor, Kevin Rockmann, professor of management at George Mason University, also might ask you the pointed question they, as editors of the Academy of Management Discoveries, have been asking people for years:
“How often do you open the latest issue of one of our leading journals and read each article—or even one article—in its entirety?”
Dane and Rockmann threw down the gauntlet in a March 7 article for AACSB International, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business: “It’s Time for Academics to Write Differently.”
The snooze button
“Stop hitting the ‘snooze’ button on your academic writing,” they implore readers. “Instead, produce scholarship that audiences will not only read but—dare we say it—enjoy.”
The article is based on research they published last year in the Academy of Management Discoveries, “Listen up! Revitalizing our writing to stir our readers and supercharge our thinking.”
They surveyed members of the journal’s editorial review board, asking them to rate two lists. The first: Nineteen top academic journals from the Financial Times 50’s list of prominent journals in business school disciplines. The second list contained 25 popular press outlets that report on management research (e.g., The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal).
“The results were startling,” Dane said. “Our 77 respondents ranked the nonscientific journals higher, not just for enjoyability, which is troubling enough, but also for informational value.”
If their small study is an indication, he said, “even scholars are put off by academic writing.”
More citations for your work
Dane and Rockmann, however, are on a mission to drive home these points:
- Researchers serve their careers and their audiences better by writing in more accessible prose.
- When scholars experiment with literary techniques, they improve their thinking as well as their writing.
- Established journals could begin promoting fresher academic writing by posting public-facing content on their websites, reserving complete papers for print.
“We argue that there are several compelling reasons for academics to revitalize our writing,” they say.
Vigorous writing can aid career advancement. “Studies have shown that better-written papers—those that use techniques such as first-person narration and vivid contextual detail, and go easy on scientific jargon—are more broadly cited on the whole.”
Accessible writing expands the audience for ideas. “By continuing to write only for other scientists (who mostly, as we’ve seen, prefer to get their knowledge elsewhere), we cede the practitioner audience to Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review and other venues for ‘translational writing.’”
Experimenting with literary techniques can improve scholars’ thinking as well as writing. “Too often, we approach our subject matter with our ‘scientist’ hat already fixed in place. Inflexible habits of thought don’t do justice to the world’s phenomena—or our own theory-making. If we looked at the world with an eye toward dramatizing rather than dissecting, we might see possibilities and points of view that would otherwise remain invisible within our cognitive comfort zone.”