Academic titles and writing - sucks - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Academic titles and writing – sucks

Academics make me sick: Why some people need to just shut up.

This paper will discuss horrible things about academic writing and why academics need to just stop. First we will discuss titles and why they are lying liars that deceive the reader about how mind-drillingly dull the rest of the text will be. Then we will skewer the abstract, followed by a lengthy rant on “de-reification” (Really Pablo Bockowsi, Effing Really?), and finally we will tell you what we jus told you we were going to tell you before going on and telling you.

Academic titles suck. Either they are “Journalism and Blogging: A test of a model of occupational competition” zzzxxkk! What? Sorry I must have xzzzkzzzx … or they run sensational, like “Are Traditional Media Dead? Can Journalism Survive in the Digital World?” – which is a couple of exclamation points away from a New York Post splash page murder headline (or any written by Tim Maier).

That second paper actually came from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which I suspect has the unwritten motto: “Try not to suck too badly, people will have to read this for J-school.” Therefore, while totally not living up to its Hitchcock-ian cover page (I was expecting more murders for a moment, at least), The writing was not entirely pretentious, self-referential twaddle.

Then you have Pablo Bockowski!  … sorry, PTSD and my therapist prevented me from completing that sentence.  Granted, the man is some kind of genius in journalismology and writes about things nobody else will touch (maybe it’s the profit margin?), but our class discussion about his paper centered around whether he was a self-referential prick or something more British and civilized but meaning essentially the same thing.

This could put you to sleep.

After two pages, I decided if I could understand 30 percent on my first go-round, I’d be pretty proud. The second read only took 1.5 hours, and I aimed for 70 percent comprehension, a goal which I would have met were it not for some grass growing in my vicinity (I know! This late in the year?!). As it was, I had to settle for 67 – enough understanding to fake it in class and actually cite him several times in my first paper, turned in this Monday. Not including this:

“Some specific changes from traditional journalism that were associated with the appropriation of online technologies include the interpenetration of print, audiovisual and information systems practices in the making of multimedia products, the de-reification of media options that occurs when actors can choose whether to use text, audio, video, and animation to tell a story, the challenges to …” zzzzzzzxxxxxxgxkkk! (Bockowski, 2006)

This from a guy who puts Latin in “scare quotes” and writes about the need for good narrative and story telling. I hear his dissertation on humor resulted in half the peer-review team committing seppuku. His paper about the nature of tragedy was a hoot, though.

The man talks more about how awesome he is than, well, even me. If he sold his soul for academic greatness, … well, that would just be sad. But if he did, it would explain some things. Clearly this Faustian bargain came with the catch that his writing would forever propagate the spread of misery and abomination among those very hopefuls that want to be our nation’s fourth estate. He is, therefore, the reason why the news is always negative. Once you’ve hear the voice of the old ones, all is gibbering.


Think long and hard before you go back to school.

Also, don’t forget to write a conclusions page that repeats everything you just detailed in confoundingly obscure language. I’d do that here, but I just don’t have the heart.



About the author

Karl B. Hille

Karl Hille lived and breathed local news beat reporting in Greenbelt and the Baltimore/Washington region for more than 12 years until the 2007 recession. While learning and improving the online side of the Baltimore Examiner operations, his platform dropped out from under his feet, then his rebound job at a regional business news magazine downsized him three months later. Now, working for the “dark side” - public communications work by day for the awesome government agency - he is going back to school to find the critical intersection of news, investigation, and the Internet – and re-learning how to be a student while he’s the only guy on campus sporting a fedora. Contact the author.


  1. BmoreKarl says:

    While I agree caveat is a much more apt term, the likelihood it will
    catch on is questionable – one because it has one more syllable and
    people are just lazy, and two because it has a more accurate meaning –
    also more erudite and obscure.

    Also the term scare quotes also aims to poke the writer in the eye, accusing them of nefarious usage of terminology.

  2. Dan Bloom says:

    Karl, great piece. as an editor in Taiwan, i often have to read grad students papers here in English and their abstracts as well. One thing i wanted to ask you: why do so many academics use scare quotes and even they use the term SCARE QUOTEs, which is meaningless and illcoined. Should be called CAVEAT quotes. agree or disagree,.or see my pioneering work at

  3. cs says:

    Conclusions? College isn’t for everyone.

    • BmoreKarl says:

      CS – Sounds like you’re implying I can’t hack it? Also sounds like a non-intellectual defense of the practice of obscuring meaning behind an avalanche of little-used academic buzzwords and jargon. Just because you can make text nearly impossible for the uninitiated to read doesn’t make it defensible.

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