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Scholarly Voice: Writing Concisely

Overview

Have you ever encountered a sentence that just didn’t seem worth the trouble? You read the sentence, back up, read it again, back up again, and finally grasp the meaning on the third try. By that last attempt, you might be so exhausted that you debate whether to continue reading. Wordy writing often stems from good intentions. Some writers think long sentences—or long words—sound more scholarly than short ones. Other writers neglect to revise, allowing a rambling sentence to remain instead of examining it for wordiness.

To achieve concise writing (and maintain your reader’s attention), try the following strategies:

Edit Mercilessly

Deleting text can be painful, but remember that it will lead to a stronger document that is more likely to be understood by your reader.

Original: It has been argued by Stargill that there is no topic in education on which there is greater agreement and consensus among educators than on the need for parental involvement in classrooms (Stargill, 2009).
 
Revision: Educators agree on the need for parental involvement in classrooms (Stargill, 2009).

The key is to shed words without shedding meaning. Here, the editor pared the sentence from 32 to 10 words while retaining the sentence’s meaning. This allows the reader to understand this point and move quickly to the next.

Look for Grouped Synonyms

Look for grouped synonyms. A common writing habit is to weigh a sentence down with lists of words with similar meaning. Do an Edit: Find for the word and to help you spot these quickly.

Original: Scholars, researchers, and writers have recommended and promoted student assessment as a means by which to address the achievement gap.
 
Revision: Researchers have recommended student assessment to address the achievement gap.

Avoid Expletive Constructions

Expletive constructions being with there are or it is phrases.

Original: There are 30 participants who volunteered for the study.
 
Revision: Thirty participants volunteered for the study.

Eliminate Yourself and Intensifiers

Eliminate yourself (I feel/I believe) and eliminate intensifiers (very/really).

Original: I feel that the study is very significant to scholars in psychology because...
 
Revision: The study is significant to psychology scholars because…

Engaging Writing: Avoiding Wordiness and Redundancy Video