Problems of academic style


One major requirement of a PhD thesis is that it achieves overall coherence with clear arguments in a logical progression. However, you also need to consider the constraints and demands of academic style. Your text has to look and sound academic in accordance with a set of conventions that are often unstated and discipline-specific.

When these two requirements come into conflict (as they often do) the result can be turgid, impenetrable prose which makes unreasonable demands on the reader. And yet, if ideas are clear but expressed in a style that is considered appropriate, this can also be a major problem. How can you achieve a satisfactory balance between the two?

A useful first step is to try to categorize different types of text that seem stylistically difficult. Here are some suggestions. I will add links to actual examples and welcome any contributions in this respect from users of this website.

  1. Texts containing complex subject matter
  2. Texts that are written in an unusual or idiosyncratic style
  3. Translated texts containing ambiguities or obscure expressions
  4. Texts that appear to be ‘intentionally difficult’
  5. ‘Mixed style’ texts where only certain sections seem problematic

Other categories might be added to this list such as ‘texts that lack coherence’.

(To be continued)