Interdisciplinary researchers need to care about clear, honest, interesting writing

In interdisciplinary academic writing, you don’t always know who you’re writing for, and that makes it completely different from traditional academic writing. The people who respond most excitedly to my work are rarely the people I predicted, and they rarely find it through the established disciplinary channels of academia. Since you don’t know ahead who you’re writing for, you have to write more clearly and accessibly. I’ve been read by psychologists, biologists, physicists, economists, and many others. The only way to communicate clearly to all of these audiences has been to keep in mind the last time they all had the same background. That’s why, when I write, I imagine a college-bound high school graduate who likes science. The lowest common denominator of academic comprehension is “high school student.” And that’s fine. Those who doubt the existence of writing that is both clear and correct probably aren’t trying hard enough. The benefits of people able to write for a wide academic audience are many. First, I think researchers of all types have some responsibility to serve as public intellectuals, particularly when they work in areas, like the social sciences, that are inherently vulnerable to misconstruction, misappropriation, and abuse. Writing clearly helps me meet that responsibility. Second, since I rarely know the best audience for my projects, accessible writing makes it easier to attract popular science reporting to get the word around. And, most valuable of all, spending time on writing makes me think better. Clear honest writing is the surest symptom of clear honest thinking.