5 Flow Part 4: Develop a Clear, Concise Style -->

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5 Flow Part 4: Develop a Clear, Concise Style

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Clarity and concision are essential to having good flow in your writing. Clear, concise expression is just as critical as having logical connections between ideas, strong topic sentences, effective transitions, and varied sentence structure. In the same way that highway roadwork and related obstacles slow and frustrate motorists trying to reach their destinations, unclear and wordy writing bogs the reader down with unnecessary words and information. It impedes your ability to craft successful arguments and keep your readers engaged. In this blog post, I offer some perspective on clarity and concision in scholarly writing and strategies for making your writing more clear and concise.


Defining Clear, Concise Style
Clarity and conciseness are important in most writing genres. You may have heard of the well-known dictum, “Omit needless words,” from Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style. These attributes are especially critical in scholarly writing because it is information-rich, comprehensive, and often interdisciplinary and because it often involves use of terminology that is unfamiliar to many readers. The reader needs a guide to successfully navigate complex, challenging, and often long works, and that guide is you.

Your job is to guide your reader through your narrative by showing him or her what is important, providing necessary context and evidence, drawing meaningful connections, and offering original insight and perspective—while being very succinct. For these reasons, APA emphasizes clarity and concision and “economy of expression,” more broadly (see Section 3.08). Writing clearly and concisely may be hardest for writers of capstone studies and other long documents.

Unclear and wordy writing is often an indicator of a writer having lost his or her focus. A lack of knowledge about how to revise one’s work and a lack of mastery of grammar and writing mechanics often result in muddled writing. A lack of confidence also often impedes writing clearly and concisely. You may not feel like you understand literature or study results to freely summarize them.

Practicing Clear, Concise Style
To tackle all of these issues, I encourage you to think of writing as a process, one which involves successive drafting, revising, and proofreading. In my view, such a process is absolutely essential to scholarly writing which demands a high level of synthesis, analysis, and originality. You need to do a lot of writing and revising to develop these skills.

Unfortunately, some writers do not revise their drafts. Their drafts become their final submissions. This is an issue because drafted work is almost always rough and unpolished. When you are drafting work, you are laying your ideas down on the page and drawing connections between ideas, concepts, and strands of your argument. It is natural that your writing is clunky as well as grammatically incorrect at this stage. That is why the Writing Center has created a lot of content on how to go through the all-important revision process.

The Writer Center also has significant resources on grammar and APA style. These resources are especially helpful to writers who are revising drafts: Identifying and correcting grammatical and other writing and stylistic errors is tricky if you do not know correct grammar and APA style. I encourage you to make use of these resources. Perhaps, do so after sharing your work with trusted readers. Grammarly is another resource to consider.

To begin the process of paring your writing, I recommend picking one or two target areas that you and your readers have identified as most critical and then focus on developing competence in these areas. Be wary of complex sentence structure, at least until you have developed a certain amount of mastery. I also recommend that you keep your sentences to three lines maximum. Any longer than that, and it is likely that the sentence has gone astray and that you have included too many points.

In conclusion, I want to relay a quotation that is attributed to the Renaissance artist Michelangelo. When asked how he created his stunning sculpture of “David,” he replied, “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.” I think that this anecdote is quite applicable for writers. The content is there or within our reach. Our job is to do the hard work of revising and proofreading our work and eliminating extraneous, often tangential content. By doing so, we can create clear and meaningful writing, which, sometimes, is a thing of beauty.
This is the fourth part in a five-part series on flow in academic writing. Tune in next week on Monday as we take a look at a fifth and final strategy: varying sentence structure.   

Tara Kachgal
 is a dissertation editor in the Walden University Writing Center. She has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and teaches for the School of Government's online MPA@UNC program. She resides in Chapel Hill and, in her spare time, serves as a mentor for her local running store's training program.  




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