This is a collection of writing tips to make your essays more concise and impactful.
Jun 16, 2011
Have a point: have a thesis, not just a survey or information. There must be one point.
Get to the point: the reader should know what your paper is about by the third line of your introduction.
Analyze throughout: think of this paper as your contribution to the field. The majority of words should be your insight on the topic, not a summary of others’ work.
Be concrete: using “may”, “can” or “might” distracts the reader. You have done your research, now stand behind it.
Appropriate methodology: think about the topic, then decide which tools are best for researching it. The internet is convenient, but is not the best source for every topic.
Cite it!: as well as guarding you from academic misconduct, citations add credibility to your paper.
Limit your scope: in the introduction, tell your reader the limits of your research. This step shows the reader why your paper has certain omissions. For example “My research is limited to English language materials from Canadian authors.”
Adopt a measured tone: aggressive writing doesn’t support your thesis, facts do. Both supporting and opposing arguments should be written with the same tone. Write clearly and avoid emotional language.
Open with a bang: use the introduction to excite the reader and bring them in. Remember, your professor has a lot of reading to do. The right introduction will help keep his or her attention.
Provide a map: in the introduction, show your reader an overview of your paper. For example: “In Part I: Impact of Facebook on Student Health, I find a positive correlation between time spent social networking and weight gain. In Part II:…”
Titles: use descriptive titles to break up sections. This helps the reader understand the flow of your paper.
Avoid echos: George Orwell says “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” An echo will distract your reader, while unique figurative language will help them understand your content.
Short and sweet: this one is Orwell too. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Use long words: if a longer word is more precise than a short one, use it. Did you know that the longest word in English is “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis”
Snip-snip: Cut out every unnecessary word.
Active over Passive: this is a pet-peeve of many professors. Always use the active voice in your writing. The active voice structure is subject/verb/object. For example: “Ben (subject) passed (verb) the ball (object).” Not, “The ball was passed by Ben”. Often “was” means you are using passive voice. Change your spelling and grammar editor to highlight these points.
Ctrl+f search for “that”: most of them will be unnecessary. Delete.
Plain English: replace all foreign phrases, scientific or jargon words with an everyday English equivalent.
Use www.paperrater.com: this site checks spelling and grammar, warns against plagiarism and provides a statistical analysis of your word usage.
Use lists: they are concise, break up paragraphs and look nice on the page.
Length: aim for paragraphs that are 4-6 sentences each.
Avoid wordiness: according to Professor Strunk, “a sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
Check punctuation: especially periods and commas. These regulate the flow of your sentences, and misuse can disrupt your reader even when you have selected the right words.
Cut big, then small: eliminate unnecessary paragraphs, then sentences, then words.
Simple over technical: use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs to explain complex points.
Do research in advance: even if you don’t start writing the paper, overtime you will develop arguments and structure.
The post-outline: you may start your paper by writing an outline, write one at the end too.
The outline should show a logical flow of ideas and highlight any weaknesses.
Follow the rules for numbers: write numbers under 10 as words, and those above 10 as figures. ie. five, eight, 11, 15.