Short non-review of Helen Sword’s “Stylish Academic Writing”

Despite the recommendation of a friend, I will not purchase this book. Shortly into the first chapter of the sample I downloaded, I found the following constipation:

The seeds for this book were sown [trite trope] when, [let’s interrupt this clause with] several years ago, I was invited to teach a course on higher education pedagogy [isn’t “pedagogy” the type of jargon Sword is fighting?] to a group of faculty from across the disciplines. Trawling for relevant reading materials, I soon discovered that higher education research journals were filled with articles written that I, [let’s interrupt another clause! with] trained as a literary scholar, found almost [why “almost”? Just state the obvious, woman! You want us to think they are] unreadable. At first I blamed my own ignorance and lack of background in the field [this sentence is unnecessary]. However, the colleagues enrolled in my course– [one more interruption of a clause!] academics from disciplines as varied as computer science, engineering, fine arts, history, law, medicine, music, and population health–were quick to confirm my niggling feeling [“feeling” is a weak noun, a category Sword later claims she hates] that most of the available articles on higher education teaching were, [yet another interruption of a clause] to put it bluntly, very badly written.

I focus on a passage with four unnecessary parenthetical phrases because that is the flaw I have been fighting in my own writing. Never mind Joseph Williams’s advice to end sentences with new ideas–an important piece of advice that Sword ignores here, despite citing him in the same chapter. Even at the level of initial readability, Sword’s prose is painful.

I doubt I would learn anything new if I read the whole book. Instead, I recommend picking up Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace.

One response to “Short non-review of Helen Sword’s “Stylish Academic Writing””

  1. Brian Ogilvie

    Unfortunately, William’s _Style_ is out of print in the U of Chicago Press version. The textbook edition (from Longman, unless it’s changed hands) is still available, but I much prefer the Chicago edition, as it’s cheaper and hasn’t been dumbed down.