Researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of Utah have published a new paper in the Marketing Journal which examines why most scholarly research is misinterpreted by the public or never escapes the ivory tower and suggests that this research is lost in abstract, technical and passive prose.
The study, to appear in the Marketing Journal, is titled “Marketing Ideas: How to Write Research Articles That Readers Understand and Cite” and is written by Nooshin L. Warren, Matthew Farmer, Tiany Gu and Caleb Warren.
Whether it’s developing vaccines or getting people to eat less, researchers are leading research that could change the world, but most of their ideas are misinterpreted by the public or never escape the public eye. Ivory tower.
Why does most academic research fail to make an impact? The reason is that many ideas of scholarly research get lost in an attic of abstract, technical and passive prose. Instead of describing “spilled coffee” and “reviews from a Yelp star,” researchers discuss “wait-no-confirmation” and “post-purchase behavior”. Instead of writing “policies that allow companies to do what they want have widened the gap between the rich and the poor,” the researchers write sentences like: “The rationalization of free market capitalism has resulted in result in the exacerbation of inequalities ”. Instead of saying, “We have studied how liberal and conservative consumers react when brands publish polarizing messages on social media,” they write, “The interactive effects of corporate ideological orientation and socio-political activism. on the media engagement held were studied.
Why is it not clear to write like that? Because it’s too abstract, technical and passive. Researchers need abstraction to describe the theory. So, they write about “socio-political activism” rather than Starbucks posting a “Black Lives Matter” meme on Facebook. They are familiar with technical terms, such as “ideological orientation”, and they rely on them rather than using more familiar terms such as “liberal or conservative”. Researchers also want to have objective sound, which puts them to sleep in passive voice (eg, effects … have been studied) rather than active writing (eg, “we studied effects …” ). Researchers should use abstract, technical and passive writing. The problem is, they tend to abuse these practices without realizing it.
When writing is abstract, technical and passive, readers find it difficult to understand it. In one of the researchers’ experiments, they asked 255 marketing professors to read the first page of research articles published in the Marketing Journal (JM), Marketing Journal Research (JMR), and Journal of Consumer Research (JCR). Teachers understood less about articles that used more abstract, technical, and passive writing than those that relied on concrete, non-technical, and active writing.
As Warren explains, “When readers don’t understand an article, they’re unlikely to read it, let alone absorb it and be swayed by its ideas. We saw this when we analyzed the text of 1,640 articles published in JM, JMR and JCR. between 2000 and 2010. We found that papers that relied more on abstract, technical, and passive writing had fewer citations on both Google Scholar and the Web of Science. “An otherwise average JM article that scored a lower (clearer) standard deviation on our measures of abstract, technical, and passive writing racked up about 157 more Google Scholar citations in May 2020 than a JM article with a average writing.
Why do scholars write poorly? There is an unlikely culprit: knowledge. To conduct good research, authors need to know a lot about their work. It takes years to create research that significantly advances scientific knowledge. Therefore, academic papers are written by authors who are intimately familiar with their topics, methods and results. However, authors often forget or simply do not realize that potential readers (e.g. doctoral students, academics from other sub-disciplines, practicing professionals, etc.) are less familiar with the intricacies of research, a phenomenon called the curse of knowledge. .
The research team is investigating whether the knowledge curse can allow fuzzy writing by asking doctoral students to write about two research projects. The students wrote about a project of which they were the principal investigator and another project led by one of their colleagues. The students said they were more familiar with their own research than that of their colleague. They also thought they wrote more clearly on their own research, but they were wrong. In fact, students used more abstraction, technical language, and passive voice when writing about their own research than when writing about their colleagues’ research.
“To have a greater impact, researchers must overcome the knowledge curse so that they can wrap their ideas in concrete, technical and active writing. Clear writing gives ideas the wings to escape the increasingly narrow attics, towers and rooms of their university niches so they can reduce infections, curb obesity or make the world a better place. Farmer says.