‘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