Coming from engineering, when you write a paper, the goal is to be objective and analytical. We use references and try to define terms for a clear understanding. The goal at least is to provide facts that support a hypothesis in as unbiased a way as possible. I think there may be some difficulty in always remaining unbiased, but recently I came across an article that seems to be written like an opinion piece more than a piece of academic work. After going through it I looked up the author, who is a professor of women's studies. She writes about robotics being sexist. Does women's studies have different goals in academic writing than engineering?

To be specific, it is these types of sentences that confuse me on the intent of the academic writing in women's studies:

Enter HRP-4C, a new-generation gynoid that was unveiled in the spring of 2009 as a body double of and for (or to replace?) the average human female.

Why would a journal allow the publication of the unsupported rhetorical question "or to replace"?

The android wears his maker's unfashionable beige shirt, dark trousers and black windbreaker jacket."

Is it professional to call a world-famous robotics researcher "unfashionable", and why is it necessary?

. . . exact body consists of silver and black plastic molded to resemble a Barbarella-like custome, which accentuates her ample breasts and shapely, naturalistic buttocks."

There is no supporting information of how the square, minutely curved metal is purposefully making the visual the author interprets. But what I don't understand with this is instead of referring to the robot by its name or the paper, the author continues to refer to it as "robo-Barbarella."

Did I just happen to come across a unique piece of writing, or are there very different styles of writing in academic disciplines?

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    Objectivity despite being a core assumption in science, does not mean it does in fact operate in ways that are totally gender neutral. Many feminists do question the notion of objectivity in science itself and try to deconstruct the ways science has been constructed and gendered. Mar 6, 2014 at 8:32
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    Speaking of academic writing: it is "women's studies", not "womans studies". ("Womans" is not an English word.) Concerning your question: Is womans studies have a different type of goal in academic writing than engineering? Not all women's studies papers have the same or even similar goals to each other, and their goals are probably more divergent from each other on average than the goals of two engineering papers from each other, on average. But having said that...obviously the writing styles in these two fields can be very different, yes. Is this a serious question? Mar 6, 2014 at 8:33
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    Well, if you were serious in your inquiries about women's studies, one might imagine that you would read more than one paper on the subject. What is stopping you from reading several women's studies papers and comparing their writing styles to other academic papers? Or, otherwise put, what are you expecting in the way of an answer? Mar 6, 2014 at 8:59
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    I think this is a good question. It appears that the goal of the question is to understand the differences in writing style and approach between two very different fields. It then provides examples from the secondary field that disagree with the OP's presumably primary field. Better would be to include both examples of CS and WS styles and trying to ask a slightly more focused and constructive question. That said, the question doesn't seem to deserve to be down voted into oblivion.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 6, 2014 at 9:32
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    This kind of writing reminds me of the Sokal affair. Jul 28, 2014 at 18:29

4 Answers 4


Many academic fields work on the premise that you examine the evidence and present an unbiased analysis of that evidence. There are fields (e.g., creative writing and the arts) that take a very different approach. That said, many fields that take an objective unbiased approach to the analysis focus on the readability much more than in the sciences. For example, the use of "robo-Barbarella" seems much more informative that the clinical/objective HRP-4C. Had the original creators of HRP-4C called it robo-Barbarella, there would presumably be no issue. In terms of the fashion comment, I am not sure "maker" refers to the actually person who did the welding, soldering, and programming, but rather the stereotypical fashion sense (or lack thereof) of CS people in general.

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    And then (as @socialsciencedoc pointed out above) there are fields for which the notion of an "objective unbiased approach" is explicitly analyzed and problematized. Women's studies is (often) such a field. Mar 6, 2014 at 16:44
  • I understand the aspect of creative writing and the arts, but I thought that creative writing itself was not published in an academic journal, but the analysis of creative writing was. In context the 'maker' is the robotics engineer that created the robot (it is in his image). I appreciate the explanation! Mar 7, 2014 at 0:21

CS and WS are each concerned with a different kinds of questions, and the language their respective practitioners use simply reflects this difference.

This is familiar to me, given that I've been on both sides of the divide (English Lit as an undergrad minor, cognitive science for my PhD). I got a glimpse of why it exists many years ago when I was in a course with a bunch of Lit Crit majors and we were discussing a certain poem by a certain contemporary poet. The Lit Crit people where pointing at a specific part of the poem and going "Is this an allegory for his lost love? Is this a metaphor for the senselessness of war?", and so on. Then, in a youthful display of naivety, I said "hey, the guy who wrote this poem is still alive, why don't we try to get in contact with him and ask him what he means?". The lecturer leading the discussion looked at me very sternly and said "that is not the point".

That was very illuminating, I think. I'm sure that the poet in question had something specific in mind when he wrote the poem (and we'll never know what it was because he's dead by now), but the Lit Crit guys don't care about that. The intended meaning of the poem is irrelevant to them, what they care about is the meaning(s) that others might extract from the poem. In the same way, in the passages you quoted, the author doesn't care about the android in and of itself, but rather about how others feel about the existence and characteristics of the android, and how these feelings affect other feelings and beliefs we might have about related issues. That is what allows him/her to make judgments about fashion and other things.

In comparison, people in the sciences care about "objective truth" (for lack of a better term), not about how other people feel about stuff. If I write in a paper "stimulus A caused neurological response B (p < 0.01)", asking about the Marxist/feminist/whatever interpretation of this finding is about as pointless as trying to get to the "objective truth" underlying a piece of poetry.

  • Your Lit Crit example actually shows an attitude which is a lot like science. Literature might not lead to “objective truth”, but it is also not solely about the person doing the analysis. The Marxist/feminist/whatever interpretation is relevant to literature because that's what literature studies, just like the temperature and pressure readings are relevant to a physics experiment because that's what physics studies. Jul 28, 2014 at 18:28
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    Addendum: here are two recent cases that highlight how Lit Crit people work: "Writer Ian McEwan describes the odd experience of helping his son with an A-level essay about one of his novels, Enduring Love, and finding his son's teacher disagreed with his interpretation of the novel." [tinyurl.com/powfyfz]
    – Koldito
    Aug 4, 2014 at 8:07
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    (continued) "I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel The Human Stain. The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. [...] I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement [...] my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator” that I, Roth, was not a credible source." [tinyurl.com/nbyoua7]
    – Koldito
    Aug 4, 2014 at 8:08
  • Ignoring the author's intent, as you describe, has been a matter of debate. According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Criticism, "In 1946, William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley published a classic and controversial New Critical essay entitled "The Intentional Fallacy", in which they argued strongly against the relevance of an author's intention, or "intended meaning" in the analysis of a literary work." They also debated the relevance of reader's feelings. So I'm confused by your prof.'s dismissal. Mar 23, 2015 at 1:36

Yes there are differences in writing style between Women's studies and Engineering, just as there are between Engineering and Science, Science and Mathematics, Law and History, and so on. The purpose and objectives of each department are different, as well as their intended audience. It would be more surprising if there were very similar writing styles between different departments.

You do not say where the article was published but this also affects the style. More narrowly focused journals will normally restrict themselves to papers written in a certain style. So technical engineering journals would normally publish technical papers, while such papers would not be accepted for a Women's studies journal, or a general science journal.

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    ”Such [technical] papers would not be accepted [by] a general science journal.” I disagree. My field is physics, and on average, a physics paper in Nature may have a catchier title than one in Physical Review, but the meat of the paper will be just as technical.
    – xebtl
    Jul 27, 2014 at 12:18
  • Also, to take the first sentence of the women's science article in question as an example, “In humans, gender is both a concept and performance embodied by females and males, a corporeal technology that is produced dialectically” is either technical (meaning I don't have the background to understand it), or just nonsense …
    – xebtl
    Jul 27, 2014 at 12:21
  • Perhaps I should have said numerical rather than technical.
    – Daniel
    Jul 30, 2014 at 11:30

I'm going to write the answer that the OP is surely hinting at and that a substantial number of readers are thinking (minority or majority is hard to say).

Yes, engineering and women's studies have different writing styles because they have different aims. The goal of engineering is to build new technologies and thereby benefit mankind. Objectivity is highly valued because nature itself is objective. You can't trick nature. The goal of women's studies, on the other hand is about identity politics. Its aim is to further the power wielded by a subset of the population. Power is determined by people and people can be manipulated. As has been confirmed in numerous psychological studies, people respond to emotion far better than reason. Hence, the most efficient way to further its goals is naturally through subjective persuasion rather than objective analysis.

I find it ironic that someone would write about a roboticist being sexist while throwing out sentences like: "The android wears his maker's unfashionable beige shirt, dark trousers and black windbreaker jacket." But it isn't surprising if you keep in mind that the goal isn't objectivity, but rather to promulgate dogma, since the success of the field is entirely determined by how many people buy into its core edicts.

One of those core edicts, incidentally, seems to be that men and women have exactly the same distribution of innate intelligence (mean, variance, probably all higher moments). There is not any room for discussion on this point even though it seems self-evident to me that this should be a purely empirical fact, and that especially now with full genome sequencing, biology would have a lot to say about this issue. How you respond to this answer likely correlates heavily to your view of the following incident in the math community:


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    Any empirical evidence for your claim that you speak for a somehow silent majority?
    – henning
    Dec 10, 2018 at 17:43
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    I literally said in the first sentence that I don't know if it's a minority or majority. Maybe you're questioning if it's even substantial? Of course, I can't prove I'm the only one on stack exchange that thinks this. But I suspect I'm not.
    – zoidberg
    Dec 10, 2018 at 17:44
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    Sorry, but you don't have the first clue about Women's Studies. Like other fields in the humanities it is about knowledge and understanding, not advocacy. It isn't about "politics" but about understanding a complex world, just as is History, or Philosophy. It is a much more complex world than engineering, in fact. The complexity of the world may lead to necessarily different writing styles as the nature of the evidence is not the same. If you haven't studied the humanities yet, perhaps it is time you do.
    – Buffy
    Dec 10, 2018 at 18:28
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    To be clear, I have the highest respect for literature and philosophy. I don't view all of the humanities as a monolith. I think denying that Women's Studies is political is a bit disingenuous.
    – zoidberg
    Dec 10, 2018 at 18:51
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    I am a woman here and I consider Women's Studies as increasingly worthless and futile. One, it does not prepare graduates for careers. Two, WS offers no skill training and serves no benefit to employers. Three, WS adds nothing to economy. Today, millions and millions of WS graduates are now straddled with debts for years. Many are now working in Walmart, McDonalds, Wendy, etc, all struggling to pay off their debt. What can WS graduates do with worthless degrees? What good has WS done for them? Sadly, WS has only turned graduates into frivolous Talking Heads with idle hands in their pockets.
    – user92331
    Dec 11, 2018 at 17:49

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