Being able to write clearly and concisely is an important academic skill that makes your writing easier to understand, ensuring your position comes across efficiently and with more impact. Why make your sentences longer than they have to be? By following the simple steps outlined below you will be able to communicate information more effectively within the same word count.

Know what you want to say

Good writing reflects good thinking. You will find it difficult to communicate your points clearly if you don’t fully understand your own position. An impactful sentence rarely writes itself. Waffling is often the result of a writer being unclear on what they want to say and not planning out their sentences. Properly planning a sentence before you start writing will make it more concise, greatly improving the clarity of your argument.

Keep sentences clean

Avoid overly wordy sentences to keep your point simple and easier for the reader to understand. This may sound obvious, but every word should have a purpose. You should delete any unnecessary words and phrases to improve word-flow and make sentences shorter. Consider the sentence: “The reason I’m going to the pool is because I love swimming”. Here, the words “reason” and “because” in the same sentence are redundant because they imply each other. “I’m going to the pool because I love swimming” communicates the same point far more concisely.

Go easy on the thesaurus

It can be tempting to spice up your writing with an array of obscure synonyms to trick the reader into thinking your work is more elaborate than it really is. But by adding unnecessary complexity to an otherwise simple piece of work you risk misinterpretation and ensuring the reader wastes time trying to decipher what you actually mean. That is not an effective way to communicate. However, there is nothing wrong with letting a particularly good or clever phrase stay. A skilled writer knows when flowery prose is appropriate. Being able to get that powerful phrase just right can be critical, as is knowing when to give up and say it simply. Clear writing does not have to be boring. Varying sentence structure with transitions and conjunctions will greatly help concise writing feel less stale.

Be direct

“Weasel words” are words or phrases used to make a statement seem legitimate, but are actually vague and baseless. While these can be qualified with sources, they sound non-committal and serve to unnecessarily draw-out sentences. It is far better to simply make your point and provide evidence for it. For a strong, clear and well-reasoned argument, weasel words are best avoided.

Consider these examples:

– “Popular wisdom has it that…” (Who’s wisdom? Is that a legitimate test of truth?)
– “In most respects…” (What respects?)
– “There is evidence that…” (What is this evidence? What is the source?)
– “It may be that…” (And may not be?)

Use an active voice

In an active voice sentence, the subject performs the action. In a passive voice, the subject receives the action. Using a passive voice is often less engaging, more vague and uses more words than an active voice. Using an active voice can therefore make your message easier for the reader to understand. For example, “10% of applicants failed the exam” is more concise than “the exam was failed by 10% of applicants”. Although the active voice is more common in non-scientific disciplines, overuse of the passive voice in scientific writing can ultimately cloud your meaning.

Kill your darlings

This cryptic-sounding tip could be interpreted in different ways, but it offers solid advice: don’t get too attached. A good writer must be willing to cut out their favourite sentences, paragraphs, and even entire chapters if it will improve the overall quality of their work. This is more to do with editing than writing itself, but knowing what to include will greatly improve how your writing comes across. We all get attached to certain elements of our writing, but it’s important to consider whether they are beneficial, or even necessary. If not, and they are burdening the overall piece, it’s time for them to go. Remember, you could have written the best paragraph ever put to paper, but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.

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