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:
- Create an outline
- Iteratively expand that outline into prose
Reading a published paper (Fantasy):
- Read the prose
- For each section, construct a mental outline/notes of the section
Reading a published paper (Reality):
- Read the abstract
- Read the conclusion
- 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!
- We take complicated ideas and make them more complicated,
- we write them up as raw text with programatically-specified formatting,
- solidify it into a un-resizable format,
- slice it into two-columns, and
- 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.