Dr. Tamara Fudge, Kaplan University Professor in the School of Business and IT
We’ve all gotten those papers – the verbose ones where every sentence feels like a lead weight and has to be read at least four times before getting another cup of coffee and writing “what is meant by this?” in the margin. All that bling works for Mr. T, but it’s not appropriate in a college paper. An example:
Maxwell’s frantic and frightened feline skedaddled across the surface of the kitchen’s faux-linoleum flooring, frightening the usually-copacetic canine companion who cowered precociously in the southwest corner due to this extraneous and unexpected ruckus.
Analysis: There are 33 words in one sentence. Some words might need to be looked up by even the better-than-average reader. The extra words mask the meaning; the sentence must be read several times to understand it. The alliteration is cute – and really annoying. This isn’t a college paper; it’s a potential Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winner.
Max’s cat ran through the kitchen and scared the dog.
Analysis: This has simpler, shorter words. There are no unnecessary adjectives. The sentence is only 10 words long and gets the point across the first time it is read.
There are several reasons why beginning writers might embellish a paper:
- They might think that academic writing and creative writing are the same thing. They are not.
- They might be trying to meet a minimum word requirement without having enough real content. That’s a shortcut through a thorny field, not a solution.
- They might think it makes them look smart. It doesn’t. It makes them look like they can’t communicate.
- They might not understand how to paraphrase and thus are replacing normal words with fancy ones and adding adjectives.
Often, our hardest job is to convince the verbose writer that his or her work is not good. “My other teacher likes this” and “I’ve always written this way” are not valid excuses. If the recipient of a written piece does not understand the meaning, gets frustrated trying to figure it out, or ends up misinterpreting it, the writer has failed to communicate. And isn’t that what language is supposed to do?
Here are some suggestions to share with students:
Keep sentences medium-short. Use shorter, simpler words where possible. Avoid redundancies, and get to the point. Identify and avoid words that don’t provide value (Rieck, 2010).
Don’t make up words, use clichés, or write as if talking with a friend. (Just to clarify, the style used in writing a blog entry is not the same as used for research papers. This writer does not use contractions or humor in academic work.)
Organize ideas with an outline and stick to it.
Proofread frequently, not just when the paper seems complete and the writer is tired.
Visit the Writing Center and ask for help from a tutor.
Most importantly: practice, practice, practice. It’s not just the way to Carnegie Hall; it’s the way to getting better at anything.
I thought of titling this blog entry ” Avoid Obtuse Verbiage Embellishing Proliferously for Deviant and Suspicious Purposes (Bling Alert)” … but I think you get the point.
Rieck, D. (2010, April 7). 11 smart tips for brilliant writing. Retrieved from http://www.copyblogger.com/brilliant-writing-tips/
Hello, unlockthedoor! I am glad you enjoyed this blog entry, and hope it helps your students to write clearly.
Fantastic! I am so glad you wrote this blog. I have one student in particular who does that. I’ve sent the link to my HS100 class some are in need of reading it as they are doing it and the others will get a lot out of our your tips at the bottom of the blog. Thanks!