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Scholar engages with plain language

by Shari Graydon

“Do people want more prisons? Wouldn’t they prefer less crime?”

This was the opening of an op ed published last week in the Victoria Times Colonist. Written in the context of increasing news coverage of the federal government’s plan to invest heavily in new prisons, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, Jim Hackler did a great job of setting up his argument and engaging readers in fewer than 10 words. And although he’s a sociologist by training who spent a career in academia, in his opening paragraph and throughout the rest of his commentary, he used language that would be accessible to a grade 8 student.

(This isn’t always easy for scholars accustomed to writing for peer-reviewed journals where the need to demonstrate grasp of theoretical concepts and specialized jargon is often a criteria for publication.)

At the same time, Professor Hackler explored complex issues with significant implications. And he did so by providing concrete examples and describing effective alternatives that made clear the impact of different policies on the lives of human beings. The result? A great example of how university scholars can contribute their expertise to the broader community’s understanding of important issues.