6 reasons why academics should speak and write clearly

Conveying complex ideas in a way a non-specialist audience can understand has many benefits. Here are a few reasons why it is important and rewarding to practice writing.

Est. reading time: 1 minute

Speaking and writing clearly is one of the key skills we as ongoing academics need to master. It is not an inborn talent. Conscious effort is needed precisely because it usually does not come naturally. For many of us, the challenge is even greater as we are likely to use at some point our second or even third language to communicate the results of our research. Conveying complex ideas in a way a non-specialist audience can understand has many benefits. When I say non-specialist I mean anybody, academic or non-academic, who has not spent the last x years working on the same topic as myself.

Here are a few reasons why it is important and rewarding to practice writing and speaking clearly:

1. It helps you to understand and to structure your ideas. Think of Einstein: if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

2. Clear language significantly limits exclusion of audience that does not posses the same level of specialist knowledge as the researcher. It is therefore more open and more democratic.

3. If people understand your points, you will get more feedback and perspectives. Your research will benefit.

4. It helps you to promote your work and to raise interest in your topic.

5. Academia is full of the word “interdisciplinary”. Clear language facilitates and promotes exchange among disciplines. This is especially relevant in social sciences that often study same or similar topics.

6. Complicated language usually takes more time and space. These are usually limited.

The good news is, clear language simply needs practice. Why not for example use this blog to do that?

Anthropologist and political scientist at the University of Munich. My research interests are nationalism, belonging, identity and memory.


Did you enjoy reading this? Share it with your social network.


  1. mm

    Thanks Petra for your encouraging statement. I totally agree: “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. Going public does not mean that social scientists start talking about trivial things. It rather means that we explain societal complexity by using our anthropological perspective in a way that people can understand what we are talking about. Shouldn’t this be the goal of any publicly funded academic?

    So yes, I think you are right, we need to become capable of doing this. We are talking “skills” which can be learned. Let’s practice clear and creative writing!

    But I also I think we should use contemporary forms of media to reach out successfully. Thus our “going public” should be social media, it should be open access, it should be multimedia.

    …it could be TRANSFORMATIONS 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • And don’t forget means such as exhibitions, films and why not a theatre play? I would advocate the inclusion of artistic means in the communication of our methods and findings very much.

      Petra, your posting comes at the right time – today I decided to address everything I write to my one year old god-daughter…

      Post a Reply
  2. @Daniel – contemporary forms of media: great. But let us not forget the traditional forms of media. And here I agree with miriam. Writing is only one way to address a public, a very specific public. Theatre, arts and everyday conversations are others. And above all: if you want to lead to change, you need to start with yourself. Writing must become once again a passion, and not just a communicative tool.

    Post a Reply
  3. There are certainly many ways of engaging in a discussion. I chose to speak about writing and speaking because, in academia, they are still the dominant ones. My point was about making information accessible.

    Post a Reply
  4. Excellent article, Petra! In the UK, we take public engagement very seriously, but it’s much easier said than done. When I was writing my PhD, I was encouraged to use and critically analyse complicated concepts, which resulted in complex and often unintelligible writing – probably because I was dealing with German philosophers! For me, it was a real struggle to “tone down” the academic jargon and start writing more clearly to address a wider audience.
    Social media is an excellent platform, as well as non-specialist journals with wider circulation.
    And yes, the rule of thumb is – if you can’t explain it to your 80-year-old granny, you haven’t really understood it. 🙂

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *