TL;DR: We need more formatting and simpler papers in academia.

This is probably controversial and said by every disgruntled graduate student.

Academic Writing is bad

Compare these three processes:

  • Writing a published paper:

    1. Create an outline
    2. Iteratively expand that outline into prose
  • Reading a published paper (Fantasy):

    1. Read the prose
    2. For each section, construct a mental outline/notes of the section
  • Reading a published paper (Reality):

    1. Read the abstract
    2. Read the conclusion
    3. Look at the graphs

The disconnect between reality and fantasy is because the paper is:

  • too dragged-out (minimum and maximum page counts)
  • too verbose (big words make us sound smarter)
  • not easy to skim (no one likes paragraphs)

When writing for the internet, you avoid that disconnect as much as possible:

  • You use lists instead of writing things out
  • You use emphasis and images healthily
  • You only release PDFs when you expect the content to be printed, and you never have two columns.

Think about how crazy our two-column papers are!

  1. We take complicated ideas and make them more complicated,
  2. we write them up as raw text with programatically-specified formatting,
  3. solidify it into a un-resizable format,
  4. slice it into two-columns, and
  5. shove it on the web in an inflexible format

I’m not advocating incomplete sentences stuffed into a rough tree outline. But there should be a happy medium between ugly paragraphs and web-oriented writing. I want this blog to be as accessible as possible.