Professor Pedantic 教授的考究學問
The professor awaits your query on academic writing, though in all honesty, he doesn’t have a lot of time for you. He is a tenured full professor and working on yet another magnificent academic tome. Even so, he has graciously consented to entertain your question. Submit it and prepare to be edified.

QUESTION: I prefer complex words. I am told it is pretentious to use complicated words when simpler terminology will suffice. However, I believe the academic community communicates most clearly in multi-syllabic words that precisely express concepts, philosophies, or technical procedures. Am I wrong?

You are only partly wrong. Consider your question phrased more simply: “I like big words. I am told I put on airs when I write that way. Yet I think the learned can best speak to each other in terms that are exact and clear as we share high-level thoughts.” That rendering of your thought uses mostly one-syllable words, yet conveys nearly the same information as your original sentences. There is nothing wrong with multiple syllables in words, nor should any writer strive to “dumb down” language in an effort to simplify it. But long words are not always the best ones.

The first rule of academic writing happens to be the first rule of any kind of writing: Express yourself clearly and accurately. It does not necessarily follow that one must use short or uncomplicated words. “University” is far more accurate than “school” in describing a higher-level, multi-discipline learning center. “Radiology” is not exactly equivalent to “X-ray,” so the simpler word cannot always be substituted. Good writing uses words precisely and if precision requires a complex word in a sentence, a writer shouldn’t shy from employing it.
學術寫作的第一守則,也是所有寫作的第一守則,就是清楚、準確地表達意思。這不表示一定要用短的、簡單的字,例如形容教授許多學科的高等教育場所時,“university” 就比 “school” 來得精確,而 “radiology” 也不等於 “X-ray”;所以並非總適合用簡單的字作代替。好文章必須用字精確,若精確表示句子裡必須用到複合辭彙,就不該畏縮不前。

What’s more, some academic writing is in areas of learning that allow little simplification. In such disciplines, scientific or technical names and terms hold special meaning to a particular community and convey a wealth of specialized knowledge. Where writers go wrong in such cases is to use such words indiscriminately and repeatedly. The result is a report blemished by jargon. So, yes, use long, fancy words when they are the best communication choice, but do not use them to impress. When that is your objective, you most often will embarrass yourself.

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