“Academic jargon that obscures meaning must be replaced by crisp, understandable conclusions,” said an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The essay, written by CMAJ section editor Noni MacDonald and André Picard, the Globe and Mail’s public
health reporter, calls on academics to realize that because of the
Internet, their audience now includes “the media, politicians, the
general public, vaccine supporters, antivaccine lobbyists and health
care workers” — whose mis-interpretations can wreak havoc.
medical academics should receive formal education about how to write in
a clear and straightforward manner and why this is important. We urge
all academic writers, medical journal editors and reviewers of academic
reports to ensure that the meaning of an article’s conclusion or a
report’s summary is clear and cannot be misinterpreted,”said MacDonald
The issue is one of audience and literacy (or
illiteracy) — and it’s not restricted to academic reports. Every form
of communication wrestles with problems of presenting a clear message,
especially to a big and diverse audience. The old rule of thumb, that a
mainstream newspaper story should be written so that someone with a
grade 8 education could understand it, seems no longer good enough.