‘Less is more.’ This is what I say to my PhD students, most of whom don’t have English as their first language. In academic English, short sentences and paragraphs are often clearer, more readable and more effective than long ones. When you edit your writing, read it aloud, either to yourself or to an interested friend, and be ruthless about cutting waffle — those parts that use lots of words but do not say anything important or interesting. To quote from George Orwell in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946): ‘A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?’ All writers would be wise to heed Orwell’s words today.
11 January 2017
I’m always reading about the tyranny of the blank page, the terror of starting something new. But once you’ve got going, when you’re drafting, and especially when you’re editing, the blank page can be your friend. When I can’t see why a paragraph or a sentence isn’t working, I cut and paste it into a…
Finessing an argument and spotting typos need different mindsets. Whether you’re writing an essay or a PhD, you need to be the editor as well as the author.
Students want their text to get to the point, and for their argument to be easy to understand. Their writing needs to be clear and concise.