Friday, 16 July 2010

Jewels out of jargon

Back to research (and this blog) after weeks of hellish marking and exam boards. Nothing to do but read. Judging by the emptiness of my inbox, my colleagues are all doing the same. Let's make the most of it before the slash and burn of higher education starts in earnest in the autumn.

Osbourne and co may not realise it but reading is hard work, not least because some academics seem to think that writing a book or article full of jargon somehow makes them cleverer. So what if no-one understands it? Only a handful of people are going to read it anyway and they're all peers to whom you need to do a bit of showing off. This is what academic research means, as my colleagues and I are quickly discovering. The only journals which seem to count in research assessments are peer-reviewed journals with a tiny readership, often written in inpenetrable language. Never mind if you're a journalism professor like my colleague Brian Cathcart who has written some scorching exposes on the deaths at Deepcut barracks, which attracted widespread praise and high readership numbers. This is journalism, not research, he was told by our new "Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise". Isn't it a bit enterprising to carry out a major piece of investigative journalism which exposes a giant cover-up? Clearly not.

At least Times Higher Education isn't afraid to point out that much academic writing is, frankly, terrible, driven by the requirements of the RAE, and now the REF. "Much academic writing would never be read for pleasure and decidedly fits into the have-to rather than the want-to category", the paper says today. Too right.

Back to my pile of books on the sociology of the professions. Will I find any answers to my questions about challenges to journalistic professionalism in a digital age? They may be in there somewhere but prising the jewels out of the jargon is another matter.

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