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Undergraduate Writing: Directness

Introduction

Writing is different than speaking. In speaking, you might use metaphors or cliches to get a point across. You might go off on tangents and use long phrases instead of addressing an issue head-on. In academic writing, you do not have the luxury of eye contact, expression, and follow-up to clarify meaning. Therefore, you need to express yourself in the clearest and most direct way possible so that the reader can understand.

The following exercise will help you identify and improve directness in your writing.

Exercise

Read over this next paragraph and pinpoint areas that you think should be clearer or more direct. If you are confused about what something means, highlight it. If you think there is a simpler or more straightforward way of writing a particular phrase, highlight that as well. You might find that reading the paragraph aloud helps you determine what is not working in the text.

Once you have highlighted these areas, rewrite the paragraph in a new way, with clear, straightforward, and direct expression. What does the paragraph look like now?

It appears that more and more students are being bullied in high schools today. In order to halt the progression of it, something needs to be done. Teenagers should feel safe so that they can learn and go to the next level. Due to the fact that bullies are constantly zoning in on others, many will not get the chance. We need to put peer mediation and a "no tolerance" policy in place in all our schools.

Exercise Discussion

Here is what one writer's exercise looks like, with indirect passages underlined:

It appears that more and more students are being bullied in high schools today. In order to halt the progression of it, something needs to be done. Teenagers should feel safe so that they can learn and go to the next level. Due to the fact that bullies are constantly zoning in on others, many will not get the chance. We need to put peer mediation and a "no tolerance" policy in place in all our schools.

She revised the paragraph in this way:

Many students are being bulled in high schools today. To halt the progression of bullying, educators need to implement policies. Teenagers should feel safe so that they can learn, graduate, and attend college. Because bullies are constantly targeting others, many students will not get the chance. Educators and administrators need to put peer mediation and a "no tolerance" policy in place in all schools.

Explanation:

  • It appears that implies that the writer is unsure about the statement. Eliminating these words makes the sentence more direct and confident.
  • In order to is just another way of saying the simpler To. Similarly, Due to the fact that can be reduced to Because.
  • It and something are vague. In the revision, the writer has gotten more specific by naming bullying and policy implementation. This vagueness also applies to zoning in on and many.
  • Go to the next level is a phrase that might be used in speech, but in writing it can be confusing. The writer has revised to specify what the next level is: attending college.
  • We is a pronoun that should not be used in academic writing because it is unclear, especially in this paragraph. Does we mean students, teachers, principals, lawmakers, or just people in general? The revised version clearly states the people involved.