Academic Writing is a Chore

I am aware that I am treading on controversy with that proclamation.

I remembered the days when the keyboard was pressed firmly against my face as I raged silently (and tiredly) at the futility of it all.

Attending the lectures in the evenings for the three years was a different experience for me personally. I would observe my course mates trudge into the lecture/tutorial rooms with heavy hearts and leaden feet – most are working adults and they are making the extra effort in their evenings to study. In comparison, the younger subset of the university population are full time students without work commitments (largely) and were having the time of their lives.

I truly believed that I learnt a lot from my course mates, who come from a wide variety of industries and backgrounds – I was exposed to their collective wealth of experience and perspectives. Some of whom I can definitely get along with, and some of whom I just (I can’t help it) berate endlessly for jumping on different political bandwagons and sending class discussions off the metaphorical cliff.

Due to my certification process in adult learning, I can now make a connection to the challenge of teaching adult learners. During my university days, some lecturers try to explain certain concepts but sometimes they get corrected by the students. A typical exchange would have a lecturer going on about an outdated government policy, and the student (from the relevant government agency) who would point out the error and expand on the current policy in place.

I see it as a humbling experience for the lecturer, who may not be updated on the latest information. Maybe it is a cultural thing, some lecturers take it very personally and spend time trying to justify their explanations.

How gracious, these dwellers of ivory towers.

My favourite exchange was how a lecturer introduced herself as a “twenty year veteran in the communications field”. Her credibility suffered a dent when she marked down assignments for “not having a hook or enough media punch”.

The context was a case study of a serious matter related to a government linked company. The contention was that the context itself is a headline without the need for sensationalising.

Given the operation and media profile of the government linked company, any error that arises from their operations is an instant headline as thousands of people are directly and adversely affected. There is never a need for a press conference call – the reporters will be banging on the lobby door within minutes of the news.


“I don’t care what you think! EVERY news item NEEDS a HOOK! Every news item NEEDS a PUNCH!”

No wonder she is a freelancer for twenty years after a few initial years at a local agency.

After than incident, I don’t remember seeing her name on the list of adjunct lecturers any more. “Oh, you know… she could be too busy with her media work to teach us,” a course mate told me with a sly smile. “You’re terrible!” “I know. And I don’t think it’s just me.”

As I woke up from the soreness of my face, imprinted by the keyboard, I remember the very reason why I dreaded academic writing.


I love words. I love long sentences of long narratives and soul. Modern academic writing is the antithesis of my nature. Simple! Short! Concise!

I tried so hard to be concise. Then I hit the second wall, the legendary “provide a relevant example” and “explanation of the concept is too simple” comments from the lecturer.

Look, you can only summarise an entire chapter of a singular concept into a few sentences. AND stop asking me to write the explanations as if the lecturer is completely ignorant. If the lecturer is ignorant of the concept, wouldn’t a detailed explanation give the blank-slate lecturer an idea before launching into an “application” aspect of the writing?

Say, I want to condense the entire works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto in four sentences (summarising each of the four chapters), I can give you this gem:

Disparities in resource ownership lead to endless class struggles. Equalise all resources with common ownership. The road to common ownership is full of obstacles. All hail Utopia.

If you tell me that you don’t understand, as a blank-slate lecturer, it is your fault for giving me a word limit when you want me to talk about its preceding influences, core theory and ultimate destination where communism will replace socialism (where socialism is the interim period towards the common ownership that communism is about).

Don’t get me started about writing collaborative ideas, substantive applications, and examples – all for a low price of 800 words!