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Friday, October 26, 2012

University Instructor Shares Composition Secrets

As many of you who follow this blog know, I often run specifics on wordiness. Today my guest blogger Kate Willson shares an opinion piece (and how-to article) on wordiness and a couple other things that contribute to that malady. I hope you'll leave her a comment.

What Writers and College Students Should Know About Wordiness
By Kate Willson

I teach a few freshman composition classes at a large state university. Each year, I'm baffled by just how verbose my students' writing is. I put forth quite a bit of effort each semester trying to get them to focus on clarity and concision, but it often seems like a lost cause. High school teachers must be training kids to write as though they're paid by the word. It's difficult to get my students to unlearn bad writing habits in one semester. I feel satisfied when just a handful of my students each year abandon their written long-windedness.

I've noticed that many of my university colleagues in other disciplines also have a problem getting to the point in writing. I think that concision is something most writers, of all ages and levels of education, struggle with. Even though my background is in writing and rhetoric, I admittedly still find it challenging to make my writing as short and snappy as it could be.

As we all strive to become more concise, clear writers, here are a few things I believe we should keep in mind about wordiness:

It derails readers

A sentence that's made up of 24 words is less pleasant to read than a sentence that's made up of 12 words. If you can say the same thing using fewer words, do it. Wordiness makes things harder on your readers. When you jam too many words in a sentence, your readers are more likely to get lost, confused, and frustrated. You're doing your audience a favor when you do your best to keep it short.

It prevents you from developing a unique writing style

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, "the writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child." Chances are, your parents weren't using SAT vocabulary words and obscenely convoluted sentences to tell you to eat your vegetables. The language you heard as a child was probably relatively simple and clear, and it probably made a lot of sense to you. Try writing in the same manner you speak and in the same manner those around you speak. Doing so will allow you to develop a writing style that's more natural and appealing to readers.

Proper editing can prevent it

Sometimes our first and second drafts end up wordy. That's OK. Being hyper aware of the economy of your language can stifle your creativity. So, don't get too hung up on being concise. Just get your ideas out on paper, edit while you write, and then go back and edit to eliminate bad writing habits like verbosity. Occasional wordiness isn't the end of the world, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do what you can to edit it out of your work.

Next time you sit down in front of a blank page, keep in mind that wordiness does more harm than good. And enjoy becoming a more concise, thoughtful writer!

~ Kate Willson is a professional writer and blogger. Well-versed in all topics pertaining to college life, Kate frequently contributes to top online education sites. Please leave your comments and questions for Kate below!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults. and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success (How To Do It Frugally series of book for writers). Learn more about her other authors' aids at , where writers will find lists and other helps including Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog. She tweets writers' resources at . Please tweet this post to your followers. We all need a little help with editing. (-:

1 comment:

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