The Biggest Writing Problem
What do you think the biggest writing problem in the social sciences is?
A. Bad grammar
B. Poorly written sentences
C. A lack of conciseness
D. Overuse of the passive voice
E. Assuming the reader knows the same things you know
A few years ago, I might have answered B, C, or D. Having worked with 300 or so researchers, I now think that the most harmful problem by far, for both researchers and their readers, is E.
Like any bad assumption, this one can cause the whole paper to go wrong. For example, what if you assume that the reader somehow knows why you chose to modify a particular model in a particular way, in what sense it is "tractable," or how it adds to what exists in the literature? Then, you might never explicitly answer these questions and---well, that is a risky move if the reader turns out to be less knowledgable on those points than you assume.
You can always get an editor or a colleague to help you with A, B, C, and D. But when it comes to E, it's between you and your readers.
The good news is that the biggest writing problem is also a problem that YOU, the writer, can fix; and this is true regardless of your native language or natural writing style.
Post by Varanya Chaubey Image by Chiltepinster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons