Scholars market their ideas with writing, yet academic writing is notoriously difficult to understand. Why do scholars write unclearly, and how can they write in a way that better connects with readers? Our slides explain that scholars write unclearly in part because they forget that they know more about their research than readers, a phenomenon called “the curse of knowledge.” Knowledge, or familiarity with their own research, prompts scholars to use three practices that make their writing difficult to understand: abstraction, technical language, and passive writing. By knowing how and when to use abstraction, technical, and passive writing, scholars can market their research so that it is more likely to make an impact.
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Related Marketing Courses:
Marketing Communications; Marketing Research
Warren, Nooshin L., Matthew Farmer, Tianyu Gu, Caleb Warren (2021), “Marketing Ideas: How to Write Research Articles that Readers Understand and Cite,” Journal of Marketing.
Academia is a marketplace of ideas. Just as firms market their products with packaging and advertising, scholars market their ideas with writing. Even the best ideas will make an impact only if others understand and build upon them. Why, then, is academic writing often difficult to understand? By conducting two experiments and analyzing the text of 1640 articles in premier marketing journals, we show that scholars write unclearly in part because they forget that they know more about their research than readers, a phenomenon called “the curse of knowledge.” Knowledge, or familiarity with one’s own research, exacerbates three practices that make academic writing difficult to understand: abstraction, technical language, and passive writing. When marketing scholars know more about a research project, they use more abstract, technical, and passive writing to describe it. Articles with more abstract, technical, and passive writing are harder for readers to understand and are less likely to be cited. We call for scholars to overcome the curse of knowledge and provide two tools — a website (writingclaritycalculator.com) and a tutorial — to help them recognize and repair unclear writing so they can write articles that are more likely to make an impact
Special thanks to Holly Howe (Ph.D. candidate at Duke University) and Demi Oba (Ph.D. candidate at Duke University), for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.
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