Rewriting Academic to Popular English Books

I have done several academic theses and writings. I want to get the main themes in a public context for anyone to read. It means a complete rewrite of all the long, recursive, parochial and complex language of the academic world into some gripping form. Most thinking tend to be Germanic, philosophical and continental in style; I was told it was understood by avid uk readers but somewhat unusual English for us readers.
Aiming at the international English environment, what are the rules for non-fiction writing to such an audience. Does anyone have experience in this direction? Any suggestions will be welcomed.

I guess I’m going through a similar situation in that I’m going through law/grad school while at the same time am trying to write my first novel. So I guess I can be emphatic with those who struggle between having a formal, scholarly sometimes didactic academic voice, and having a ‘commonplace’ down-to-earth, novelesque voice that panders to the masses, and gratifies the literary soul.

My solution: try to develop one, single voice that satisfies both audiences. For me, I tried dividing my academic self from
my ‘real’ self, I found just too taxing, and I felt myself being pretentious of myself, if that makes any sense.

Anyways, my theory is that if you can develop a voice that can (a) be entertaining and (b) be intellectual, ultimately, you are hitting two birds with one stone).

Not having contempt for, or talking down to, your audience usually helps.

In my opinion…

  • Know and respect your audience. Love them enough to challenge them at least a little

  • Know your style (semi-academic, conversational, novelistic, etc)

  • Read similar (successful) books and identify what you think works or doesn’t work. Improve on the best examples that you find, but be true to yourself

  • Avoid the temptation to shortcut the process by just editing the original works down, or copying blocks of text from the original works and joining them together with new linking passages…the final product will read as a rehash rather than as a distinct body of new writing

  • Use the original texts as reference documents only; write the new publications from scratch to get a much cleaner, cohesive, and coherent voice. Substantive rewriting is a time-consuming task, especially when adapting texts for different audiences. Writing afresh usually saves time and delivers a better product

  • A house converted into flats comes with compromises, as does a car converted into a truck, a church into an office, a hammer used as a screwdriver…people can always see the changes that have been made. IMO, write one work for one audience and a separate work for a second audience, even if the subject matter is the same

Yeah, I think I should revise what I wrote as I think it needs clarification.

Academic writing is fundamentally an intellectual endeavour, not an emotional one. It can get emotional for sure, but if you’ve been trained well through the rigours of academia, you’ve learned to convert your raw emotions into something that maintains emotional distance.

Traditional ‘creative’ writing – a bit of a misdirection, I think considering everything is creative after all – but creative writing, is a fundamentally emotional endeavour where intellectual musings – they do come now and again – come secondary; it’s your soul that matters most above anything else.

I might sound officious in clarifying these two styles, but man, a lot of people struggle between these two worlds. I know I do.

I think with what you’re doing, docland, you really got to find balance between these two extremes and just write in the most honest way you can, by being mindful of both worlds, and coming up with something that caters to both. There really is no simple solution I’m afraid.

This is what we in the profession call a Welder’s micrometer
Just sayin’

Works every time for me. never had a screw head stripped using the screw driver. And you get a nice recessed feel too.

On another plane altogether. From a über academic point of view, has anyone actually failed an exam for couching subject vernacular in old fashioned, straight forward, no nonsense English? UK or US.?

I think it’s not really vocabulary that might fail you; it’s an informal style that might, as some might find that insincere to whatever serious matter you are writing about on an exam.

… *as in language pertinent to the subject matter. Doesn’t have to be full of brain-numbing legaleseistic, obfuscatory gobbledegook. Presentation done in **‘…clear and concise English’.is surely a winner?
**quote from

As always, Vic, you both confuse and amaze me.

I really would like to know, what it is that I’ve said that confuses and amazes you? :confused:
All I’m advocating is a plain, simple, straight forward presentation, wherever possible, of all the relevant theories, facts and figures etc., embodied within you thesis. Nor am I suggesting you mimmic my predilection for bastardisation of all accepted standards of syntax and grammar.

Hmm… I protest against the title of the post. It implies that academics are un-popular. :imp:

But apart from that, I support Briar Kit’s post. You don’t rewrite, you simply write something else, for a different audience. You can collect the scientific writing in the Redearch section, but then you have to start from scratch, creating a new outline, and writing a completely new text.

And to be honest, that’s why you got Scrivener - to write! :smiley:

I think that’s what Docland is proposing, isn’t it?

I don’t envy Docland, one little midge’s didgy :open_mouth:

Oh… Well… No. You can’t re-write something if you haven’t first written it, can you? He first has to write the popular thing, and then he can re-write it. Right?
You can’t refurbish what’s not furbished. You can’t regard something you haven’t previously garded, I think. :laughing:

Just because I’m a HAW, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I can read minds,

but transforming this lot!! :unamused:

…into this :unamused:, I don’t believe it to be an unreasonable assumption that what Docland had in mind, when he refers to rewriting, is in fact the process as outlined by the lovely Rose.
Of course, there is that .000000001% chance I could be wrong.

… in which case you would have to re-think? :slight_smile:

This is part of what I do for a living as a developmental editor. I was an academic for nearly 30 years and resigned my tenure in order to write more freely across institutional boundaries, and then had to find an income stream that didn’t intrude too much. And so now part of my portfolio is helping academics with interesting research to recast their monograph material into non-fiction works. I think all of them would ‘abjure the popular’ but they all want a wider, non-specialist audience.

There are absolutely no rules or algorithms for this. I think writing too closely for an imagined audience can sometimes be damaging (it assumes you know too much about them); I think an artificially informal voice can sometimes be damaging (your reader needs to trust the narrator). Sometimes a complete re-write is the only way, but that depends heavily on the particular academic subject. For my own writing project (basically history of medicine) I have kept parts of lecture notes and parts of conference papers verbatim, but the whole structure has been entirely redeveloped.

One piece of advice I do think worth passing on: academic texts are generally properly argumentative - hence they rely heavily on a conceptual/logical structuring to make their specific points; but non-fiction texts need to have a narrative structure that can (at least sometimes) float entirely free from the conceptual. Getting this right is the most exciting and the most daunting part.

If needs must … but in this case, … the Devil is in the detail. “Would” doesn’t enter into it. Could? … Should? … of course. As I’ve stated elsewhere on Scriv’s hallowed fora, I don’t claim infallibility, only: near-infallibility. But, my cute little moggy friend, even:

is no guarantee of an onset of self doubt, causing me to rewrite, or even, to use it as data base from which I attempt to produce a best-selling novel, e.g., 49 Shades of Pink Pussies or wot-ever.

Were one to try and reads between the lines in DocLand’s OP, I’m sure other interpretations could be possible, as well as a literal one.


This is usually quite difficult, but not always. Several years ago I had reason to read a thesis published in Germany 1944. The paper was so thin that I could read through the paper what was written on the other side. And the text being slightly offset between pages, resulted in the opposite side text ending up between lines, so I was literally reading backwards, mirrored text between the lines.

Oh, you meant metaphorically? :open_mouth: