On Academic Writing
| Peter Klein |
The Strategic Management Society’s annual conference wrapped up yesterday. It was an excellent event with many fine papers, panels, workshops, and entertainments. We’ll be posting more about the substance of the conference in the coming days. However, I want to mention today a small gripe, not about the conference, but about the strategic management literature more generally. This is something that struck me in particular during the conference. Specifically, there is too much bad writing. The strategic management field is becoming as bad as some of the humanities — maybe even sociology — in its use of pretentious, clumsy, and awkward words and phrases. You can see this most easily in the paper titles: “An Analysis of the Effects of Intra-Firm Group Identity and Power Imbalance on the Deployment of Collaborative Teams in the North Waziristani Ball-Bearing Industry, 1992-2005.” OK, I made that one up, but it gives you the flavor. I’m reminded of Orwell’s example:
Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern  English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one.
I’m pretty sure the latter version appeared in the abstract of a recent SMJ paper!