Monday, March 25, 2013
You are not paid for your academic writing (see Reason 88) because no one is willing to pay to read it. In fact, virtually no one is willing to read it at all. After several years of work on a dissertation, you can have some confidence that your adviser will read the finished product, and somewhat less confidence that the other members of your dissertation committee will read it. Beyond that handful of people, it is unlikely that anyone will ever read your dissertation again. As university libraries are increasingly archiving dissertations digitally, you may not even have the satisfaction of seeing your name on a volume in the library. On rare occasions, someone may come along and cherry-pick something from your research that relates to his own, but chances are that no one will ever sit down and read the paragraphs over which you agonized for so long (see Reason 28).
The same fate awaits the vast majority of published academic writing. Typically, it takes months of research, writing, and revision to produce a journal article that will be seen by fewer people in its author's lifetime than will visit this blog in an hour. Academic presses print as few as 300 copies of the books that their authors have labored over for years. Most journal articles and academic monographs are written because academics need to be published to keep their jobs, not because there is a demand or need for their work (see Reasons 33 and 34). To the extent that academic writing is consulted at all, it tends to be "read" solely for the purpose of furthering someone else's writing. In many cases, editors and peer-reviewers probably read manuscripts more carefully before they are published than anyone will ever read them after they are published. Even someone entrusted to review a book may only skim it. Feeling obliged to stuff their work with citations, scholars sometimes look no further than the titles of what they cite. It will come as a surprise to you the first time that you see your work cited by someone who did not read it. It will be less surprising the second time. A few academic careerists use the fact that virtually no one reads what they write to their advantage, but most academics take great pains to produce good work. If you don't like the idea of spending the next several decades writing for a minuscule audience of readers, then you probably shouldn't go to graduate school.