Scientific language is becoming more informal

We are not supposed to use first-person pronouns, and contractions aren’t allowed. These rules also discourage unattended anaphoric pronouns and say that split infinitives should be rarely used. And to start a sentence with an initial conjunction is as bad as to include a listing expression, and so on. Exclamation marks are forbidden!

The rules of academic writing are many, but they have one intention: to avoid informal language, in all its forms. Blogs and social media may encourage authors to write it as they say it, but much of what passes for scholarly and scientific prose is simply not designed for human ears. Academic writing is code, with freedom of expression and emotional range curtailed in favour of explicit meaning and a necessary lack of ambiguity. If nothing else, it (by which we mean academic writing, for those still on the watch for unattended pronouns) is writing that knows its audience and gives them what it (the audience) expects.

But, to use a direct question, another stylistic tool on the banned list, is this academic supply and demand still in place? Do the academics of the Internet age still communicate as stiffly as their colleagues did at the time of the Apollo programme? Or, heaven forbid, has some scruffy informality crept into scholarly discourse?

Read more: Nature

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