Often, particularly with younger writers, the problem with clarity may manifest itself in mechanics--poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, clumsy paragraphs. But at higher levels of scholarship, jargon--arcane concepts and technical language--tends to be the main culprit. In an article on Inside Higher Ed yesterday, new research is showing that science publications are becoming increasingly difficult to read. There are several possible, and understandable, reasons for this, but the main problem with a disconnect between author and reader is that the valuable information that can inspire, inform, and advance humanity may be ignored by the general public--those who may benefit most from such writing.
And it's not just the sciences that have this problem. As a literary theorist, I can assure you that Derrida, Foucault, Spivak, and a host of others are just as guilty of obfuscatory writing. By the way, obfuscatory means purposefully complicated or confusing.
I'm a firm believer in a quote from Albert Einstein: "If you can't explain it to six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself." This may be a slight exaggeration when it comes to scholarly writing, but the point remains. Clarifying our language does not mean that we should talk down to our audience or pretend they are too dumb to grasp complicated ideas. But when only an elite few can understand written material, it demonstrates not an impressive authorial intelligence, but rather a condescension toward others and an ignorance of what writing is actually for. When we write, we should want as many people as possible to participate in that exchange. So whether you are a young student or an experienced scholar, when you are writing, be thorough but brief, informative but simple, detailed but clean. Clarity is the key.