Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Clarity: An Intellectual Standard

Clarity is an intellectual standard the need for which I am keenly aware of. I have given two conference presentations this year and as a graduate student often write papers on specialized topics. And in my own writing and speech, I find clarity at times elusive.

It is, of course, no secret that many academics have struggled to express themselves clearly. At times, it is even suggested that this is due to true ignorance or, worse, dishonesty. Thus the necessity for both clarity as well as honesty as intellectual standards. (Comments welcome in regard to any academics/writers you may be familiar with who are fine specimens of unclear writing).

So all of these thoughts lead me to the following four points about the intellectual standard of clarity:

1. Readers and listeners (i.e., receptors of information) always want clarity. But writers and presenters (i.e., transmitters of information) could be threatened by clarity.

2. Thus the phenomenon of obfuscation in academic writing. Sometimes academics really are avoiding saying or writing what they mean.

3. Many times, however, it is simply a fault of knowing how to express oneself. Thus the necessity of peer review, proofreading, and other forms of feedback in order to improve style and facility of expression. Oh, and if you already have a PhD and think that solves it, get over yourself. It's a process of continual improvement.

4. If you cannot say what you want to write (or write what you want to say) in non-specialized terms, then you either 1) have nothing to say or 2) do not yet yourself understand what you want to say and, thus, should say nothing. The only possible exception to this point is the necessity of certain specialized terms; yet I say "possible" exception because I am not sure it really exists, for even specialized terms can eventually be explained in easier, clearer terms.

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