I’m sure you’ve all come across bad medical writing – both in clinical and health economics. We certainly have – and have been guilty of it ourselves! This series takes a highly irreverent approach to some styles of bad writing, which we have arbitrarily attributed to a particular characteristic of the author. And then looked for animals with similar characteristics. This research did NOT follow any scientific principles, was assisted greatly by large quantities of white wine, and has no statistical significance whatsoever. No ethical approval was obtained.
Here’s the first creature in our Zoo of Bad Scientific Writing:
This type of writer invariably uses the longest words he or she can find, in the mistaken belief that it makes them sound more intelligent. Regardless of whether the word actually means what they hope it does. We all know this type of writing – there are journals (thank heaven not the best ones) that encourage this type of writing because they want to appeal to an elite audience (long-suffering, more like). I am a great advocate of a wide and varied vocabulary, and also in using the language precisely as possible, but not to the point where the words get in the way of the meaning. I say leave this to Patrick O’Brian who was one of the few effective users of obscure words. Or to Germans, where the language itself asserts that longer is better.
Writing motivation: I’m SO much smarter than you! Look at my brilliant display!
Means of expression: Long, complex words and sentences
Style or tone: Slightly patronising, as if explanations are really beneath them (possibly beyond them??)
The Solution: The Fog Index or breath test
It’s not fool proof, because some long words are easy to understand, and some short words, if not used often, can be difficult. But for peacocks, it’s a good start.