The Best and Worst Writing

“The best and worst of reading can be found in academic journals. A subscription to an academic journal that touches on your business, product, or service is guaranteed to provide something exciting enough to keep you up all night as well as hundreds of pages of text that can help you get back to sleep.” —Bob Pritchett, Fire Someone Today, pg. 131.

Academic writing can teach us two things: give us great ideas, and help us realize how bad writing can be.

Most academic writing is bad. Why is it that some of the most educated people in the world are the worst writers? Academics often speak jargon. As a consequence, the quality of their writing is diminished. Less jargon equals better writing. Simplicity is preferred. But if you get past the jargon, as Bob Pritchett (who I work for), says: you will find “something exciting enough to keep you up all night.”


Business people read business books. Writers read books about writing. Biologists read books about biology. But how many of us read books not in our subject area?

What works in life also works in reading. You would be amazed how many great ideas in one industry came from another industry. Some of my best tactics for running an editorial team came from the advice of my father, Leon Barry, who primarily runs teams of engineers, inspectors and construction crews. My project management style doesn’t come from the publishing industry. (And often, that’s a good thing.)

My best ideas don’t usually come from the publishing industry, or biblical studies, they come from other fields. Where do your best ideas come from? Has someone in another industry taught you some of your best tactics? (If not, make some new friends. More on that soon.)

(The link to Fire Someone Today is an affiliate link.)

One Response to “The Best and Worst Writing”

  1. L Barry December 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    My son and I met for breakfast this morning at a little corner coffee shop. It was raining outside, the air was crisp and the shop just opened. As I entered I could smell the aroma of fresh coffee brewing. What a great time we had, with great conversation plus great coffee and potatoes (two of my very favorite things). At breakfast, John told me about this blog, so I took a look at it later in the day. This is my first ever response to a blog. During my life, I have learned that the simplest approaches are the best and I have tried to impart this philosophy to my son during his growing years. I am honored (and somewhat surprised) to have been referenced as a source of inspiration. I have had the opportunity to manage multi-million dollar projects during my career and I have managed some real small projects also. However, I have found the principles are the same: hire competent people who really care (passion) and who have drive (determination)…if they have passion and determination, treat them well and you can teach them the rest. Doesn’t this apply to all endeavors?
    I agree; academic writers can be some of the worst writers. They seem to think they have to prove something and thereby offer too much academic jargon in the process. For me, the most convincing and enjoyable writings are logical and simple. My favorite book is “All Creatures Great and Small” by James Herriot, written by a vet who writes vividly and without a lot of medical jargon. I have a suggestion for those” academic-types” out there in blog-land, to those really intelligent people with “type A” personalities: the next time you write, just let the words flow and think about writing to an intelligent 6th grader, and if he can’t understand your words, then you have used too much jargon. Let your passion drive your writing and the academics will fill in the gaps. Before you disagree with me, try it; you’ll find you have artistic abilities which will truly enhance your academic writings.

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