The changing nature of ye olde academic writing

classic booksLikely we all remember Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. It was written in the late 1300’s in Middle English. Here are the first few lines:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,    

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,        

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;          

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

I am sure we are all flashing back to high school and suffering though this classic long work. Most of us read an updated version written in modern English, thankfully. Likely you remember the discussion of the evolution of language.

And the evolving continues, even in academia. Writing, even scholarly writing, is becoming less formal and driven less by grammar rules. Look around at the information you are consuming daily. News articles, blog posts, social media posts all are a lot less formal than ten years ago. Even the hallmarks of academia, the peer review article in many journals, focuses much more on the ideas and less on strict adherence to Strunk and White.

This development is driven by several factors. First, some/many publishers have reduced the amount of resources they plow into heavy grammar editing, due to costs. Second, there is little demand from readers for greater/stricter editing. In my twenty-five plus year career in publishing/editing, I have never received correspondence from readers/customers to edit works I have published more. Third, this slight move toward more informality reflects current dialogue. Listen to conversation with colleagues and you will hear more colloquial discussion.

This may cause different reactions with writers.

First, you may question what you should do. This does not prevent you from following all the formal rules of writing. Be my guest.

Second, you may be saddened for loss of the “good old days of sentence diagramming.” Feel free to be nostalgic, but things are not going back. Of course, things can go too far and we end up with an all emoji dialogue. : )

Finally, you might embrace this development as the reality in the world today.

At the end of the day, ideas are what matters, not the rules of grammar. It is the person inside the clothes that we want to know, not the outfit they are wearing.

So, sit thee back and enjoy ye grog of ale and pick up ye’s latest work by Marlow, or scroll through your feed and see what is happening with you peeps on Instagram. But get writing.


John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.”Contact him at jbond@riverwindsconsulting.com.