Yesterday I mentioned how hard it is for academics to learn how to write for a general audience. In graduate school we are trained to write for fellow scholars – learning the jargon and mastering the background knowledge that everyone in the field shares. That’s because scholarly writing is a kind of short hand for insiders. If you had to explain every term, every concept, every assumption then what you could say in an article for insiders would literally require a book.
And so you learn which assumptions, perspectives, ideas, terms, and knowledge are widely shared by those for whom you are writing. Some of us are fortunate enough to teach in PhD programs, and we can see how a student starts to acquire this kind of information and insight into what can and needs to be assumed by their scholarly audience, and what cannot. It is very, very easy to read a piece by someone and know whether they are an “insider” or not.
In fact, it is very easy to read an article written by someone who is a bona fide scholar in some other field (say philosophy or chemistry) who is trying to write an article in your own field (say early Christian studies or new Testament) and recognize that they simply aren’t an expert in what they’re talking about. They just don’t have …
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