Research writing in English: a stylistic conundrum
John Bates, Tarragona, Spain
An enormous amount of the world’s research these days is written in English by researchers who do not have English as their native tongue and who are understandably ill-prepared for such a task. Therefore, they often require the services of language professionals to ensure that their papers can be published.
So far so good. However, when we set to work, we find texts that are not as clear and concise as the academic style guides recommend they should be: on the contrary, sentences are often long and rambling, phraseology is often so pompous that it is barely intelligible and there are so many more nouns than verbs that at times it is difficult – at least after the first reading – to determine what exactly is being done. And, unfortunately, when we consult similar texts written by native English speakers for guidance, we frequently find that they have many of the same features as their non-native-written counterparts.
In this talk, I focus on the apparent contradiction between the advice given on how best to write research papers in English and the nature of real-life texts. After providing an overview of the lessons learned from previous METMs and discussing the correlation between complex writing and academic prestige, I shall introduce the views of such leading scholars as Michael Billig, Steven Pinker and Helen Sword, all of whom have written at some length on the quality of research writing in English.
By the end of the talk, attendees will have seen that although a lot of research is written with verve and vigour, a lot is not. As research writers ourselves – we may not be authors but as translators and editors we are writers – we have a duty to transmit knowledge efficiently, so we should not merely replicate the status quo but challenge it.
About the presenter
For the last 35 years John Bates has been living in Tarragona, where he works at the Language Service of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, providing a translation and editing service for the Catalan- and Spanish-speaking research staff.