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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing Your Paper

Writing Concisely Overview

All writers must make choices. Writers who write concisely choose words, phrases, and sentence patterns that clearly and efficiently support their meaning and purpose. Empty words, clichéd phrases, and ungrammatical sentence patterns hide your meaning and distract from your purpose.

Avoid Wordiness

Wordiness is the opposite of conciseness. Academic writing is often associated with confusing wordiness, but it shouldn’t be. Academic writing should be clear.

In order to understand the nature of the test results, it becomes necessary to form an idea of what the results might be expected to be.

“In order” is often a filler phrase. “To understand the nature of” something is basically the same as “to understand” something. You can avoid the wordy clause that follows the comma by rewriting it as a command or request (imperative mood).

To understand the test results, compare them with your expectations.

Combine Sentences

Short sentences can seem more concise.

The house had a large porch. It also had a large deck.

But these short sentences describe parts of the same idea, so you can combine them.

The house had a large porch and deck.

Two complete sentences require two subjects and two verbs. A single, concise sentence can make do with one subject and one verb.

Reduce Redundancy

A redundant word simply repeats the same (or nearly the same) information proved by another word in the sentence.

I read each and every book in my library.

“Each” and “every” mean basically the same thing, so you can remove one without losing much meaning.

I read each book in my library.

I read every book in my library.

Keep Ideas Parallel

Similar parts of a sentence are not parallel if they use different sentence structures.

We went to the movies, got some dinner, and there was a huge party we crashed.

The third part uses a sentence structure (“there was a huge party”) that is not parallel to the standard subject-verb-object structure of the first two parts. A parallel sentence structure makes it easier to see that “we” are the ones who did a series of three things.

We went to the movies, got some dinner, and crashed a party.

Rewrite Negatives as Affirmatives

Negative statements use negating words like “not” or “lack” and prefixes like “un-” or “il-” to indicate that something is not the case. Multiple negations in the same sentence can be confusing.

It is not a good idea to not sleep well before a big test.

It is illogical to lack sleep before a big test.

Readers must spend time figuring out how these negatives work together. The affirmative alternatives are less wordy and more direct.

It is a good idea to sleep well before a big test.

It is logical to sleep well before a big test.

Avoid Empty Intensifiers

Intensifiers are words that quantify, intensify, or add emotion to ideas. Some intensifiers, like “mostly” or “unusually,” can provide necessary limits to your claims. Others don’t add useful information.

There really is no excuse for just doing whatever you like.

Here, “really” and “just” are empty words that you can cut.

There is no excuse for doing whatever you like.

Limit Prepositional Phrases

Prepositions (of, by, under, etc.) often appear in phrases (“by my neighbor”) that show possession.

I had to spend an hour of my time to clean up the mess made by the dog owned by my neighbor.

You can avoid the wordiness of prepositional phrases by substituting possessive pronouns.

I spent an hour cleaning up the mess my neighbor’s dog made.

 

Even when a prepositional phrase is the best choice, avoid stacking prepositions.

The writer based the movie off of a novel.

“Off of” is a common awkward phrase that you can eliminate.

The writer based the movie on a novel.

Remove Drafting Language

When you are writing a rough draft, you may find it useful to describe your research process.

The first article I looked at, which was written by Malko, presented statistics on American driving patterns.

But do your readers need to know how, when, or why you did your research? If not, remove this information from your final draft.

Malko’s article presents statistics on American driving patterns.

Avoid Throat-Clearing

“Throat-clearing” is taking a long time to get to the point.

Throughout the history of the world, personal communication has been important. Since its origin in the 1960s, email has helped businesses stay in close communication with their employees and customers.

The first sentence attempts to place the argument in the largest possible context, which is usually unnecessary. Do you really want your readers to think about the history of the world? Get to the point by deleting the first sentence and starting with the smaller, more specific context of the second sentence.

Since its origin in the 1960s, email has helped businesses stay in close communication with their employees and customers.

Use Appropriate Visuals

Long descriptions of data relationships or other complex details can be hard to visualize.

In January, total theater attendance was low. Attendance rose in February and again in March by a lesser amount, but then fell in April. May continued the falling trend, which did not reverse until July. July was a midyear peak, however, and attendance generally declined the rest of the year.

Instead, help your readers visualize by giving them an actual visual that complements your discussion of the data. (Be sure to consult a style guide for formatting guidelines.)

Attendance peaked in March and July, which coincided with the theater’s two promotional campaigns.