Feeling a little bitter about having to read and/or write social science books that seem to hide their basic points in unnecessarily fancy rhetoric? Then you need some advice from Michael Billig, who has figured out how to succeed as an academic by writing really badly.

Billig doesn't want you to think he writes badly, though. In his new book from Cambridge University Press, Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences, Billig devotes an entire social science treatise to snarking about other scholars' bad writing. He even has a theory about why their writing has gotten so rank. Here's the blurb:

Modern academia is increasingly competitive yet the writing style of social scientists is routinely poor and continues to deteriorate. Are social science postgraduates being taught to write poorly? What conditions adversely affect the way they write? And which linguistic features contribute towards this bad writing? Michael Billig's witty and entertaining book analyses these questions in a quest to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong with the way social scientists write. Using examples from diverse fields such as linguistics, sociology and experimental social psychology, Billig shows how technical terminology is regularly less precise than simpler language. He demonstrates that there are linguistic problems with the noun-based terminology that social scientists habitually use – 'reification' or 'nominalization' rather than the corresponding verbs 'reify' or 'nominalize'. According to Billig, social scientists not only use their terminology to exaggerate and to conceal, but also to promote themselves and their work.


That's right — all that fancy academic talk and noun-ification is just a scam to get more books published and find a tenure-track job at a prestigious university.

If you'd like to know more about Billig's own career as a scholarly writer, you can check out his page at Loughborough University.

Or check out his book.


Share This Story

Get our newsletter