I am a university student, I have to read a lot of published paper and cite them into my paper, but I find it really hard to understand the articles.

I am not an English native speaker, but I can speak fluent English and understand most English newspaper. However, when it comes to academic articles, I have no means to deal with.The sentence structure is always so long and complicated that I keep losing my mind when reading them. Though I still can get the rough meanings and the main ideas, I can never fully understand a single academic paper!

I always see words I don't understand, and even I look up from the dictionary, I still got confused by the long and complex sentence structure at the time! I have to read it over and over again.

I want to know if the same problems happen to native speakers too or just me being stupid!

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    On the whole, academic writing is poor. Good writing is rarely valued by the editors and readers of academic prose, as long as the author follows the customs of the field (there are a lot of different sets of customs) and cites everybody judiciously. The purpose of academic publication is not to inform but to promote, and thus it's usually as tedious as most other advertising. Oct 22, 2013 at 16:02
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    I don't think you're stupid. Keep in mind that you, as a non-native speaker, not only have to understand the material you're reading but at the same time have to grasp what is said in another language. If you accept that every studying you do in another language is always also studying that language, you can be less harsh with yourself and move on.
    – phw
    Oct 26, 2013 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


I would offer a few reasons journals can be hard to read:

1) Researchers who established and talented enough to have their work published in journals are not necessarily good writers. These are highly intelligent folks, gifted in their specialized areas, but not necessarily well-schooled in the art of writing clearly. A physicist can be a mediocre writer yet still be a darn good physicist.

2) An academic article is not intended to be a literary piece, or even a textbook. It's intended to be written by experts, for experts. Authors don't spend a lot of time providing background information, because the readers are presumed to have an expert background in the same field already. The expected formula is: Concisely introduce your research, explain your experiment, and present your findings.

This is not to say that a well-written piece wouldn't be preferred over a poorly written piece, but that's not the main emphasis. Those reading journals are reading to be informed about the newest findings, not taught or entertained. This isn't Life magazine – and it's not intended to be. If you're a beginner wanting to learn more about gallium arsenide semiconductors, don't start by reading journals – you're at the wrong end of the ladder.

3) By nature, many journals are hard to read because the subjects are quite advanced. Authors are condensing months worth of research into a single paper, and, in the scientific fields, their findings are supported by statistics derived from technical experiments. It's not meant to be browsed in the waiting room at the dentist's office.


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