One of the main techniques by which writers create drama is by withholding information from readers. Unfortunately, it is difficult to use this technique in academic writing due to the nature of the peer review process. I frequently deal with reviewers who demand more “signposting.” They want everything to be revealed up front. No surprises. I resist because I believe that overuse of signposting is one of the main reasons so much of academic writing is so boring. Instead, I interpret these demands as a signal that I haven’t done enough to gain the reader’s trust.
If the readers don’t trust the author to provide just the right amount of information, in just the right doses, they will feel frustrated and confused. But if you can gain their trust they will be willing to go along for the ride, confident that all will be explained at the end. Unfortunately, the peer review process sometimes makes it difficult to have this discussion. In the end, we might settle for lazy signposting because it is easier than trying to convince an editor that the problem isn’t insufficient signposting, it’s insufficient trust.
The same problem plagues documentary filmmaking. Although the lack of peer review means filmmakers frequently have more editorial control, test screenings often result in calls for more signposting. Sometimes it is necessary, to be sure, but often the same problem can be solved in a more dramatic way.
And yes, I always tell my student that their papers need more signposting. Because they do…