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Writing Clearly and Concisely
 

Writing Clearly and Concisely

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This presentation explains some revision tips that will help students write clearly and concisely. It emphasizes minimizing wordiness and writing clear, yet complex sentences. During the workshop, ...

This presentation explains some revision tips that will help students write clearly and concisely. It emphasizes minimizing wordiness and writing clear, yet complex sentences. During the workshop, students will be encouraged to check their understanding of topics discussed. They will also receive handouts for further reference.

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  • Howdy. My name is __________, and I work at the University Writing Center. We are available to all TAMU students to help with any writing project. You can find out more about us by asking me, or by visiting our Web site at writingcenter.tamu.edu. [If you have time, talk about the hours and locations of the UWC]
  • The goal of any piece of writing is effective communication to an audience. The purpose may be to persuade, to provide information, to express an idea, or any number of other things. Achieving this goal requires that we revise. If you write a paper at the last minute and fill it with fluff to get to your word count, or if you write it to sound impressive but don’t go back and examine your style, you’ll probably end up with something most of us don’t want to read. Your professor HAS to read it—but if it is written clearly, persuasively, and with a little dash of style, well, wouldn’t you rather that he or she is smiling rather than groaning through the experience?Now your style will change with your purpose, audience, and type of writing. But whether you are writing something to persuade or to inform, something formal or informal, most readers appreciate straightforward, clear style. For example, if any of you have ever had to learn your course material from a poorly written textbook, you know how confusing it can be when you’re forced to dissect the authors’ sentences and then make a guess at what they were trying to say. In a way, good writing style adds credibility and a tone of confidence to your presentation.Today, I’m going to walk you through three important phases of the revision process: making your writing (1) clear, (2) correct, and (3) concise.
  • “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” –George OrwellThe best way to clearly show that you know what you’re talking about…is to actually know what you’re talking about. Once you are familiar with the subject-matter and you thoroughly understand your essay’s purpose, you can work on fine tuning the language itself to make it more clear. First, we’re going to start by discussing the pros and cons of repeating words.
  • A good strategy for finding repeated words is to skim your paper, looking for words that you tend to use often, and then circle or highlight them. When you’re trying to find synonyms—or words that meant the same thing—use both a thesaurus and a dictionary. Make sure you know how to use a word before putting it in your paper. If you use one or several words frequently, you need to decide whether the word(s) become redundant or if they create unity, like a key word.
  • This sentence is an example of how repetition can alert you to a lack of clarity and to wordiness. As you try to revise the sentence, you realize the meaning is not entirely clear.Possible revision: A class of beacon mounts has been designed to allow for all three types of tracking system beacons to be globally attached to the rig. All of the holes are identically machined so that each beacon type can be attached. Possible revision: By machining identical holes in the rig and designing new beacon mounts, we could attach all three tracking system beacons to a single rig. There is still some repetition, but less, and the meaning is clearer.Later, we’ll show an example in which repetition of key words is used to create unity.
  • Here, the repetition of key wordscreates a chain. In this case, if you vary the words just to avoid repetition, you make the passage harder to read:Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. Tube sustenance can prolong existence to an indefinite extent, but it cannot always preserve its quality. Without that, many would argue, living is worthless. You need to decide whether the repetition of certain words in your writing creates unity or inhibits clarity.
  • Another very common source of error, not to mention lack of clarity, comes from where we put modifiers. Modifiers describe a word in the sentence, and correct placement of the modifier is key. If you aren’t careful, you could end up with a dangling or misplaced modifier. They can be difficult to catch—the best way is to read aloud and listen closely. Also look for modifying phrases, especially those beginning with –ing words that open sentences.A dangling modifier describes a word that isn’t in the sentence: “Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude won first prize at the fair.” “As a teacher, it is important to stay patient.”
  • A misplaced modifier is too far away from the word it is trying to describe, thereby modifying a different word and changing the meaning of the sentence: “Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude makes the best roasted pig in south Texas.”Ex: Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude makes the best roasted pig in south Texas. Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude’s roasted pig is the best in south Texas. Rotting in the cellar, my brother found the five-year-old potatoes.My brother found the five-year-old potatoes rotting in the cellar.
  • [Note: Many students will have heard that passive voice is not an acceptable way to express ideas in a formal written medium. It is important to instead talk about focusing on consistency rather than any kinds of set rules on this subject. If the journal style they are writing in is usually in passive voice, this will probably be the best choice for them. Science and technical writing tends to use the passive voice frequently. Alternatively, encourage the students to talk to their professors to determine which voice they want to see even if this is in opposition to what they see in journals.]Before you eliminate all passive voice, think about what you want to emphasize. Active voice puts more emphasis on the actor while passive voice puts more emphasis on the object. Sometimes the passive voice is more wordy than the active, so if you can avoid passive voice, your writing might be more concise. Let’s look at other ways to make your writing more concise.
  • [Option—read quote.] The goal when writing an academic paper is to cut out wordiness and to increase clarity while still keeping the style interesting. This is the idea of minimalism.A common misconception is that the more words you use in an academic your paper, and the more convoluted your sentence, the more intellectual it will sound. While this strategy may work on the writing portion of the SAT, it won’t fly in the real world for real readers. Fluff and padding can’t hide poor research or content, and it will only look like bloat.
  • Now we’re going to discuss some simple tricks for identifying wordy passages in your writing. [It may be good to ask if they know the meaning of these, before you go into detail about them. ]
  • Some phrases that come up frequently in academic writing are unnecessarily wordy. Many times, one or two words can replace a three- to five-word phrase. Eliminating these phrases in every other sentence would make a notable difference in your entire paper’s word count. Sometimes, a noun that has a verb form is embedded in the wordy phrases (ex: arrived at the decision decide). [These examples are taken from the book Successful Scientific Writing (1996) by Janice R. Matthews, John M. Bowen, and Robert W. Matthews.]
  • Now let’s talk about the Paramedic Method. This method (created and described by Richard Lanham in his book Revising Prose) is a process you can use to make your writing concise. We’ll concentrate on the first 5 steps, but here are all of them. Steps 6, 7, and 8 should be done within the context of an entire paragraph or passage.
  • This a sentence that Lanham calls “the official style.” It’s from a real web site, [we changed the first sentence for illustration. We changed the verb from “will organize” to “is in the process of organizing’] and it shows an example of how some people pad their writing to make it sound impressive. But it’s really hard to figure out exactly what it means. Notice how it sprawls. There are just too many phrases one after another, thus making the idea difficult to divine from the jumble present here. This is 46 words long. (The real version was 42.)[A good way to show this is to read the sentence really, really fast.]So let’s apply the Paramedic Method to this monstrosity.
  • First, find all of the prepositions in the sentence. [You might have already gone over what a preposition is earlier, but go ahead and remind them.]Next, find all of the “to be” verbs. In this sentence, there is only one. Next, find the action—what verbs are in the sentence? Can they be simplified? In this case, all three verbs can be simplified. [Go over examples.] Identify any “slow wind-ups” in the sentence. In this sentence, it takes a while to get to the action. The phrase “in cooperation with” can be reduced to “and,” so your reader can reach the action of the sentence sooner. Other slow wind-ups include phrases like The fact that “there is/was” and “it is/was.” For example, “it is important that you revise” could be reduced to “revising is important.”
  • Original:The National Research Council Space Studies Board, in cooperation with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are in the process of organizing a decadal survey to establish priorities and provide recommendations for life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity for the 2010-2020 decade.Revised: The National Research Council Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are organizinga 2010-2020 survey to prioritize concerns and recommend life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity.Notice how the revision is much more straightforward and clear. [Here is where we could insert practice with worksheets to get a better handle on the Paramedic Method. Look to your packet for good example sentences. Split the class into small groups to work on the PM together and get them to read aloud from their results. If it is a large class, just see if a few will volunteer to share their results. Talk about the Lard Factor to help measure some of the effectiveness of their results.]
  • OK, so now we have what Lanham calls the Lard Factor. You can see, graphically, how much fat we have cut from the original with our revision.
  • For more help writing clearly, correctly, and concisely, visit our website at writingcenter.tamu.edu to make an appointment.
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Writing Clearly and Concisely Writing Clearly and Concisely Presentation Transcript

  • At a loss for words? 214 Evans Library | 205 West Campus Library writingcenter.tamu.edu | 979-458-1455
  • Writing Clearly and Concisely 2
  • Writing Clearly 3 The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. —George Orwell
  • Delete or revise ambiguous words, especially those too informal for the situation. Absolutely Very Maybe Could have SO 4
  • Clarity and Complexity Complex: Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was God’s punishment of both North and South for slavery appears in the last part of the speech. Revised: In the last part of his speech, Lincoln claims that God gave the Civil War to both North and South as a punishment for slavery. Complex phrases and clauses, new information, and technical terms are easier to process when placed at the end of sentences. 5
  • Complex: Questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding are the most difficult. Revised: Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. 6 Clarity and Complexity Here is another example—the more complex phrase is easier for the reader to process when it comes at the end of the sentence.
  • Check for Repeated Words Become aware of words you overuse. When revising, identify any these and other instances of unnecessary repetition. Using a thesaurus and a dictionary, replace repeated words that might distract readers. 7
  • Eliminate Repetition A class of beacon mounts has been designed to allow for all three tracking system beacons to be attached to the rig in a global manner. This consists of machining all of the mounting holes on the rig the same and having a method for each beacon type to mount onto the rig using the holes. 8 Repetition of key words, however, can create coherence.
  • Key Words: Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. Intravenous feeding can prolong life to an indefinite extent, but it cannot always preserve its quality. Without quality, many would argue, life is worthless. Varied Word Choice: Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. Tube sustenance can prolong existence to an indefinite extent, but it cannot always preserve its quality. Without that, many would argue, living is worthless. Create Coherence
  • Don’t Dangle Modifiers A dangling modifier describes someone or something that is not in the sentence. • Incorrect: Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude won first prize at the fair.  Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude’s roasted pig won first prize at the fair. • Incorrect: As a teacher, it is important to stay patient.  As a teacher, I need to stay patient. 10
  • Or Misplace Modifiers 11 A misplaced modifier is too far away from the word it’s trying to describe. • Incorrect: Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude makes the best roasted pig in south Texas.  Plump and juicy, Aunt Gertrude’s roasted pig is the best in south Texas. • Incorrect: Rotting in the cellar, my brother found the five- year-old potatoes.  My brother found the five year old potatoes rotting in the cellar.
  • Active vs. Passive Voice Active: We have determined the target market to be adults between the ages of 30 and 45. Passive: The target market was determined to be adults between the ages of 30 and 45. Who’s doing what to whom? •Active voice identifies the actor. •Passive puts the thing being acted on first. Check which style your professor prefers. 12
  • 13 Writing Concisely This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read. —Winston Churchill
  • Check for Wordiness  Doubles  Redundancies  Wordy phrases  Negatives  Sentence sprawl 14
  • Delete doubles Delete redundancies full and complete tried and true each and every true facts free gift in a wise manner red in color seven in number long in duration 15 Remove Excess Words
  • Arrived at the decision  decided Is able to  can A majority of  most In order to  to Despite the fact that  although Are of the same opinion  agree A small number of  few For the purpose of  to 16 Revise Wordy Phrases From Successful Scientific Writing by Janice R. Matthews, John M. Brown, and Robert W. Matthews
  • not different  similar not the same  different not allow  prevent not notice  overlook not many  few not often  rarely not stop  continue not include  omit Change Negatives to Affirmatives From Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams 17
  • A sentence sprawls when there are many clauses or phrases after the verb. One way to reduce sprawl is by cutting or revising who/that/which clauses. Ex: Teachers should remember that students are vulnerable and uncertain about those everyday, ego- bruising moments that adults ignore, and that they do not understand that one day… Ex: Teachers should remember students are vulnerable and uncertain about those everyday, ego-bruising moments adults ignore, and they do not understand that one day… 18 Remove Sentence Sprawl
  • Paramedic Method 1. Circle the prepositions. 2. Circle the “is” forms. 3. Find the action. 4. Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb. 5. Start fast—no slow windups. 6. Read the passage aloud with emphasis and feeling. 7. Mark off sentence’s basic rhythmic units. 8. Mark sentence lengths. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/032 1441699/ref=dp_image_text_0?ie=UTF8&n=2831 55&s=books
  • The Official Style 20 The National Research Council Space Studies Board, in cooperation with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, is in the process of organizing a decadal survey to establish priorities and provide recommendations for life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity for the 2010- 2020 decade. Source: Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Academies (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DEPS/ASEB/index.htm)
  • Find the prepositions and “to be” verbs. The National Research Council Space Studies Board, cooperation the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, the process a decadal survey and co life and physical sciences research microgravity and partial gravity the 2010-2020 decade. Paramedic Method Find the action and simplify: Start fast—no slow wind-ups. in in with of to for in for is organizing establish priorities provide recommendations • is in the process of organizing  is organizing • establish priorities  prioritize • provide recommendations  recommend in cooperation with  and
  • The National Research Council Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are organizing a 2010-2020 survey to prioritize concerns and recommend life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity. Revision
  • The Lard Factor Divide the difference between the number of words in the original and the number in the revised version by the number in the original. Original (46) minus Revision (34) = 12 12÷ 46 = .26 or 26%
  • For More Help… 24 Visit our website or call us to schedule an appointment. We can help you write clearly and concisely.
  • 214 Evans Library | 205 West Campus Library writingcenter.tamu.edu | 979-458-1455 We’ll help you find the write words. U N I V E R S I T Y J X I G Z P O E N H B W D E T L Q I L R D R C K K K P P T R T I V R M X S T X J P T B C Z P B Y O U C I S K E W V J D A E N S I N N Q O G P E G I C J C T O B Y P X E G K G V E F G B S R M C E V Q R M Check us out on…