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Sound Writing

Subsection 7.3.1 Writing Clearly and Precisely

Having noticed that a great number of professors wax loquacious when giving lectures, you may be perplexed to learn that academics actually value brevity in academic writing. Professors face some of the same challenges that you probably face in college: they have a lot of reading to do, what they’re reading is specific and hard to understand, and they have to write about it themselves. From this predicament emerges the importance of writing precisely and clearly, choosing words carefully, being wary of passive voice, and packing meaning into a sentence by using colorful, strong verbs. In this section, you will learn to make intentional decisions about your writing style and word choice to enrich your essays.


When you have what you believe to be a brilliant idea and a strong argument, it is sometimes tempting to try to sound impressive by using a lot of words. More is better, right? Not necessarily! If more words and specialized vocabulary will make your meaning more clear to a specific audience, then it’s worth it to use longer, more complex wording. But if complicated language makes the sentence (and your point) more confusing, it’s better to state your ideas simply.
Here are some long-winded ways to say relatively simple things:
What you (an intellectual) said
What you meant
“At this juncture in time . . .”
“now,” “currently”
“By virtue of the fact . . .”
“For the purpose of . . .”
“In all likelihood . . .”
“In the event that . . .”
“In this regard, it is of significance that . . .”
simply omit and get on with your sentence
“The truth is that . . .”
simply omit and get on with your sentence
“Until such time as . . .”
These kinds of empty phrases do not improve your writing and only add a tiny bit to the length of your paper (and length probably isn’t the most important thing your professor wanted you to produce, anyhow). If you’re hoping to sound scholarly, look closely at the precise and specific scholarly language that is used in your discipline.

“This,” as the Subject of a Sentence.

Readers like specificity. Using “this” too much, especially as the subject of a sentence (e.g. “This is what I’m talking about.”) conveys too much ambiguity. To what does “this” refer? Instead of writing “this,” try to use an interesting word that refers specifically to what you want to talk about. For example, I could write an essay about my dog, Chuck, and say, “Chuck likes to take walks. This is why I walk him every day.” To avoid using “this” as the subject of the sentence, though, I could say something like: “Chuck likes to take walks. I walk him every day because he loves walks so much.” In this sentence, “this” is replaced with “because he loves walks so much.”
You can also simply restructure the sentence(s) to avoid using “this” as the subject. From the example above, I could also say, “Chuck likes to take walks, so I walk him every day.” Finally, you can think of a noun that tells your reader what “this” is referring to: this quote, this information, this verdict, this distinction, this occurrence, this sentiment, etc.