clarity is important
“Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be put into words can be put clearly.”
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
- Charles Mingus
“The complaint about bad writing is about the most banal cop-out in all of academia, if for no other reason than that (as here) it is trotted out as a final kick-in-the-groin to a text the critic believes is already beaten to the ground for other reasons. “False, not insightful, not informative. There. And you’re badly written!”
- Andrew Perrin, an orgtheory commenter
The scholar values clear writing because the purpose of reading, for the scholar, is consumption, the devouring of truth. Unclear writing slows learning. Extremely unclear writing prevents learning.
The scholar who respects their work also values clear writing. If they have worked in good faith on a book, they believe that it contains the truth. Other people may benefit from reading that book. Thus, unclear writing hinders the main purpose of the scholarly text, which is to help others understand what has been learned through research and argument.
Even the egotistical scholar, who seeks fame, should value clear writing because it maximizes the number of people who might be able to understand the content of the text. Unclear writing may impress a narrow circle, and thus yield professional rewards, but it limits how many people can ultimately read and understand an idea.
Unclear writing erodes the scholarly community. The reader suspects that the author hides behind words. Those who are suspicious of learning point to bad writing as evidence of vacuity among scholars. Among scholars, poor writing creates rifts. Criticism and evaluation, the lifeblood of the scholarly world, are hard to come by when even the most generous readers find it hard to comprehend a text.
Some ideas persist despite their presentation and are worth the effort of discovery. Thus, clarity does not trump all. Poor writing is not a fatal flaw in a text. Rather, it is a cost, a tax on the mind of the reader. Unless it is absolutely necessary, it is better not to pay, lest good ideas be lost.