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Be concise

 

Good academic writing gets straight to the point. It does not waffle or waste words.


Write concisely by:

1. Making the actor and the action clear

Attempts at writing in an academic style often result in the meaning being buried under a pile of nominalisations* and the prepositional phrases^ needed to support them. While some nominalisations are useful and appropriate, using too many makes sentences unwieldy and hides the main action.

Terminology

* A nominalisation is an abstract noun based on a verb or adjective, often ending in -tion, -ence, -ity, -ness, -ment, etc., e.g. education (from educate), agreement (from agree).

^ A prepositional phrase is a preposition followed by a noun phrase, e.g. in the university.


2. Eliminating redundancies

Wordiness adds to your word count without adding to the meaning. Be brutal: delete meaningless, doubled and implied terms, and replace unnecessarily long phrases with shorter ones.


Making the actor and action clear

Look at the following example. Who is doing what here? What is the main action? Who or what is doing it?

There is general agreement among climate scientists as to the elevation of global temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The first step is to find the actions by turning the nomalisations into verbs. Remember nominalisations usually end in -tion, -ence, -ity, -ness, -ment, etc.

nominalisations verbs
There is general agreement among climate scientists as to the elevation of global temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

agreement → agree

elevation → elevate

Now consider the following:
(a) Who is agreeing?
(b) What is elevating what?

Actors Actions Target
Original Revised
(a) There is general agreement among climate scientists as to the elevation of global temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Climate scientists agree that ...
(b) There is general agreement among climate scientists as to the elevation of global temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is elevating global temperatures

Rewrite the text, moving the main actors and actions as close to the beginning of the sentence as you can. Note how the extra prepositional phrases will naturally disappear, leaving only those that are necessary.

Actors Actions Target
Revised Final
Climate scientist  agree that
+
Carbon dioxide is elevating
Most climate scientists agree that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is elevating global temperatures.


The resulting sentence is not only more concise, it is also much easier to understand.

Actors Actions Target
Original Final
There is general agreement among climate scientists as to the elevation of global temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most climate scientists agree that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is elevating global temperatures.

(Adapted from Williams, J.M. and Bizup, J. (2014). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. (11th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.)


Eliminating redundancies

Avoid padding your writing with unnecessary words.

Delete meaningless terms

  • each and every
  • true and accurate
  • completely finish
  • future plans
  • It is important to note that

Replace unnecessarily long phrases

  • due to the fact that → because, since
  • not similar → different

Example

Before

Engineers cannot avoid utilising complex and difficult technical terms in order to clearly analyse requirements and describe them in a precise and meaningful way.

After

Engineers must use technical terms when writing clear requirements specifications.

Tip: be careful when attempting to write concisely. Don’t leave out important details or qualifications. Cut the waffle, not the content.

(Adapted from Williams, J.M. and Bizup, J. (2014). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. (11th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.)

Activity 1

Revise the sentences below by selecting the most appropriate verbs to describe the actions. Click the 'Check Answer' button after revising the two sentences.

Sentence 1

Attempts by researchers at identification of the AIDS virus have met with success; however, attempts at development of a vaccine for the immunisation of those at risk have failed.
AIDS researchers have the AIDS virus but have failed to a vaccine that will those at risk.

Sentence 2

Any departures by the members from established procedures may cause termination of membership by the Board.
If members from established procedures, their membership may be by the Board.


(Adapted from Williams, J.M. and Bizup, J. (2014). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. (11th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.)

Instructions

Read each of the sentence. Revise it by selecting the most appropriate verb to describe the actions within [ ].

Sentence 1

Attempts by researchers at identification of the AIDS virus have met with success; however, attempts at development of a vaccine for the immunisation of those at risk have failed.

Revise

AIDS researchers have [eradicated, identified, isolated] the AIDS virus but have failed to [develop, isolate, identify] a vaccine that will [cure, identify, immmunise] those at risk.

Answer

AIDS researchers have [identified] the AIDS virus but have failed to [developed] a vaccine that will [immunise] those at risk.

Sentence 2

Any departures by the members from established procedures may cause termination of membership by the Board.

Revise

If members [terminate, proceed, depart] from established procedures, their membership may be [departed, terminated, established] by the Board.

Answer

If members [depart] from established procedures, their membership may be [terminated] by the Board.

Source

(Adapted from Williams, J.M. and Bizup, J. (2014). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. (11th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.)

Activity 2

The two sentences below each have three words/phrases that should be removed. Click on these words/phrases to remove them. The revised version will appear after deleting all the redundancies.

Sentence 1

Employability actually depends on certain factors that basically involve generic skills, such as ability to communicate, as much as any particular technical disciplinary knowledge.

Sentence 2

Going forward, it is recommended that such kinds of issues be considered in the future planning process.

Activity

Read the sentence and think about which three words or phrases can be deleted. Answers will be provided: One version with the deleted words in [ ]. The second version with the full answer.

Sentence 1

Employability actually depends on certain factors that basically involve generic skills, such as ability to communicate, as much as any particular technical disciplinary knowledge.

Answer with deleted words/phrases:

Employability [actually] depends on [certain factors that basically involve] generic skills, such as ability to communicate, as much as [any particular technical] disciplinary knowledge.

Answer:

Employability depends on generic skills, such as ability to communicate, as much as disciplinary knowledge.

Sentence 2

Going forward, it is recommended that such kinds of issues be considered in the future planning process.

Answer with deleted words/phrases:

[Going forward], it is recommended that such [kinds of] issues be considered in the future planning process.

Answer:

It is recommended that such issues be considered in the future planning process.