Markup for Write-Only Papers

Guidelines for scholarly writing abound, but often they focus so much on writing that they forget about reading, in particular, about speed-reading or skimming.

Here is a very resolute example which can be understood just by gazing at it, although it is not in English: Typographic design for scholarly papers. It bans everything that could serve as visual structuring (such as entire blank lines, or bullets with usual indentation), and bans highlighting that could serve as eyecatcher. In other words, it prohibits all necessary macro markup that could allow to quickly grasp the gist.

“Bold and underline … take an absolutely unharmonious effect in the continuous text, and also deflect too much from smoothly reading” (Section 9),

and

“another line would result in too much spacing and would tear the text.” (4.b)

Although this guideline is nearly ten years old, it is still in in force for the theses written at the department of book science over there. It may be all right for a bibliophilic or nostalgic audience or reading a novel. But even before, this open access paper observed:

“the defining traits of an academic reader are … 2. that his time resources are limited.”

As the info overload increases, skimming becomes even more important, and new forms of literacy are emerging as users “power browse”.

But, as the broad white margin of the guideline indicates, such papers are intended for an audience of just one: The corrector. And it is no surprise that the scholar’s later theses following such guidelines will have a similar fate.

This is what I had to think of when I read Aiming at obscurity

(Sources via Matthias Arnold, Martin Ebner, and Stephen Downes; All translations are mine and unprofessional.)

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