Nice and Concise: How to Condense Your Writing

by Sarah Brownscissors

Have you ever had the thought while you were proofreading your paper that the sentences seemed too long due to the fact that they were too wordy, making the overall paper that you wrote confusing and frustrating?

Well, you’re not alone – we’ve all been there.

Concision in writing is essential because it enhances clarity. While certain phrases and words are sometimes necessary, they usually get in the way of the actual message, making the writing seem confusing. If you feel like your writing is wordy, ask yourself if particular words are phrases are necessary and if not, get rid of them! Here are some common issues:

Unnecessary relative clauses

Relative clauses often begin with that, which, whose, where, or when and are used to elaborate on the noun that precedes them. In the first sentence of this post, there are unnecessary relative clauses, all beginning with that. While these relative clauses make sense, they do not help clarify the meaning of the sentence, so they can be removed:

Before: “…making the overall paper that you wrote confusing and frustrating?”

After: “…making the overall paper confusing and frustrating?”

Unnecessary modifiers

Modifiers are words or phrases that describe other words or word groups. The first sentence of this post contains one of these unnecessary modifiers when it says “due to the fact that”. This is a wordier phrase for “because” and should be replaced:

Before: “…the sentences seemed too long due to the fact that they were too wordy”

After: “…the sentences seemed too long because they were too wordy”

Unnecessary repetition

Sometimes in an effort to be clear, we end up repeating ourselves, which confuses our meaning and overcomplicates sentence structures. An example of repetition from the first sentence occurs near the end: “…making the overall paper that you wrote confusing and frustrating?” Earlier in the sentence, it states that you’re proofreading your paper, implying that you wrote it. This makes the phrase “that you wrote” seem redundant, so it can be deleted:

Before: “…making the overall paper that you wrote confusing and frustrating?”

After: “…making the overall paper confusing and frustrating?”

Using these tips, we can clean up that atrocious first sentence so that it becomes:

Have you ever thought while proofreading your paper that the sentences seemed too long and wordy, making everything confusing and frustrating?

For more concision tips, go to http://writingcenter.byu.edu/services/handouts

Dealing With Writer’s Block

wallby Tyler Garrett

If you’re reading this, then you’re not writing.

And if you’re not writing, then you might have writer’s block, which is, well, when a writer is blocked in his or her attempts to write—when a writer’s mental capabilities simply refuse to generate logical strands of thought, either temporarily or seemingly permanently (usually between the hours of 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. (school nights)).

Since you’ve stumbled upon this blog post, you might be wondering how other people overcome writer’s block—how they hurdle this intimidating obstacle and sprint triumphantly to the finish line. (I wonder why people sprint in general, but hey, maybe there’s a blog post on that too.)

When I experience writer’s block before, during, or after the 9–2 frame, I have a number of options up my sleeve. If I don’t have sleeves, then I swap my tank-top for a shirt. (Voila, options!) For the purpose of this blog post, however, I’ll impart my one, go-to piece of advice:

Just write.

The Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain in 450, and you’re asked to analyze the linguistic and cultural impact on the native Britons. You remember hearing about this in the lecture; you remember glancing at some words in your textbook and getting a more thorough understanding on Wikipedia. You’ve typed your name and “Think of a More Creative Title” for a title, and you’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for ten to fifteen minutes, but with the smell of bacon downstairs (at 6:30 p.m.?) and the foreboding reminder to start on an essay for Women’s Studies, among many other thing, you are simply experiencing WRITER’S BLOCK.

What do you do?

The words aren’t coming. You know they’re up there, but they’re not coming out. Like a scared cat under a sofa, they seem frustratingly, rebelliously locked away until, I don’t know, you stop caring so much. But you need to care; this paper’s due in a few hours.

Again, what do you do?

As the bold heading suggests, just start writing. Yep. Just start typing the words as they come. Don’t judge, don’t filter. Just start clacking on the keys, no matter how ridiculous (or not) the results are.

Literally, just start typing any random assortment of words, because the simple act of typing words actually starts to clear up the debilitating writer’s block. Imagine a bunch of words bottle-necking in your brain. You can stare at the backed-up words, or you can start to pull them out one at a time until a nice, steady flow of words starts to develop.

For example:

I’m sitting here in the Wilkinson Center and I’m writing on my laptop and this girl just sat down in front of me and she’s wearing brown boots. I’m wearing brown boots too! How awesome! It must be brown-boots day! So, about the Celtic Briton people in Britain… Hmm… What about them… Well, I guess they weren’t too thrilled about being killed and pushed out of their lands.

That took twenty seconds to type (and, being an editor, I took twelve seconds to correct my spelling). But look! Words on paper! And now that my mind is exercised in rapidly generating words, it’s now in a much better position to start writing academically, at least much more so than sixty seconds ago.

So, if you’re experiencing writer’s block, just start typing words. If there’s nothing to salvage from your rushed writing, delete it and try being more methodical. The point is to just start writing, and as you do so, the writer’s block will eventually erode and blissfully float down the mind drain.

On Analysis

by Alison Siggardhogwarts

“This needs more analysis,” you’ve probably heard a teacher say at some point in your time as a writer. But what does that mean? Often, analysis can seem like an arbitrary thing that magically comes to some people, but not to others. And everyone seems to mean different things by analysis! However confusing the meaning behind how people use “analysis,” the thing itself is not that difficult at all.

First, we should discuss what analysis is NOT. The biggest thing that analysis is not is summary. If you simply repeating what your evidence (say, a quote) is saying in other words, you are not offering analysis. The same is true if you are simply briefly telling your reader what happens in a story, or the points the author was trying to make. While these things can be useful in certain contexts, they are not analysis. Analysis is also not necessarily your opinion. If you are saying “I believe” or  “I think” (or if you are implying those things), you are not giving analysis.

What analysis is, is showing your reader your thought process and how you arrive at the claims you make and why your reader should agree with you. This means that you have to break down your evidence and explain how it supports the claims you are making in your essay.

But how do you do this? A fun way to practice comes from a good friend and former Writing Center tutor, Jenna. This exercise is a bit of geeky fun: sorting characters into Hogwarts Houses! First, start out with your claim (which becomes your topic sentence). For example, the claim that Steve Rogers (Captain America) would be Sorted into Hufflepuff House. Next, you would provide evidence. Perhaps you would site his line where he claims that he “doesn’t like bullies, whatever side they’re on.” Now, the analysis. How does this line prove that Steve belongs in Hufflepuff? Well, one of the House values is fairness and trustworthiness. Obviously, bullies are not following these values. Therefore, according to this quote, Steve is a Hufflepuff!

This is a very basic example, but it gives you the idea. If you struggle with understanding how to think about analysis, this could be a fun and helpful way to start strengthening your analytical skills.

Starting is Half the Battle!

balnk pageby Carsten Christensen

Let’s face it, writing a paper is not easy, especially if it’s the first paper in Writing 150, you’re writing in a new language, you haven’t written anything longer than a text message in three years, or you’re tackling a 30 page research report.

Well, welcome to the great and terrible situation in which we all find ourselves at some point during our college careers. Writing can be intimidating and frustrating, especially if you don’t know where to start. Perhaps I can offer some advice.

The most important part of writing a paper of any size is the planning stage. Without a solid plan, an outline, no writer, regardless or talent or intelligence, can create a great piece of writing. Without a plan, you’re sunk. Following the four steps I outline below will set you solidly on the path to creating a good plan and, consequently, a good paper.

  1. Identify both audience and context

Who are you writing to? About what are you writing? These are the first two questions that you have to answer.

Understanding audience is perhaps the most important thing that you can do as a writer. They will determine the way that you approach your paper. What are their needs? What are their expectations? How will they respond to your argument and to the way you make it? Your goal, relative to audience, is to maintain the integrity of your message while making it as appealing as possible to your readers.

Related to audience is context. Your paper is likely a detailed snapshot of a much larger issue. As you write, you are introducing your audience into a larger conversation, and they need to understand what has already been said. Do your audience a favor by helping them understand the larger issue behind your argument.

  1. Identify purpose relative to audience

In order to create a strong paper, you must understand why you are creating it.

Beyond just understanding your own motives, you also need to understand them relative to audience. What do you want your audience to do or learn because they read your paper?

  1. Generate a thesis relative to your purpose

The next step is to create a primary claim, a thesis, based on your purpose relative to both audience and context. Your thesis is generally composed of your main argument and a brief explanation of its supporting points. Thesis statements explain to readers what you are writing about and why you are writing about it.

Just a quick note: thesis statements are not always limited to one sentence. Concision is key, so be as brief and clear as possible in presenting your thesis, but make sure that, in trying to cram as much information as possible into one sentence, you are not obscuring your argument. It’s perfectly acceptable to write a thesis statement several sentences long.

  1. Generate supporting points for the thesis

Now that you have established a foundation for your paper, you can begin to create its main substance. Brainstorm logical points that support your primary claim (thesis statement). Make sure that each point, like a support column in a large building, anchors your argument by adding meaning and clarity to it.

The next step in the process is to organize each of the supporting points in a logical progression to create an outline for your paper. Then, flesh things out, make connections, find and explain evidences!

This is not the only way to begin writing a paper, but it is a good one. Be patient with yourself and your writing. Writing takes time. You can’t complete this process in twenty minutes while watching an episode of Parks and Rec—it requires a bit more time and effort. If you work through these steps with some dedication, however, you will save yourself a lot of pain and anguish later when you actually write your paper. You’ll know who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, what to say about it, and how to say it. Those things understood, you’ve already won most of the battle!         

Reader Feedback

perspectiveby Jesse Robinson

Reader feedback. It’s the best.

I’m serious. The best thing I have ever done to improve my writing is have people look at it and tell me what’s wrong.

It’s effective for the same reason that people yell at the football coach on TV, that moviegoers offer a ten-second review of every commercial at the theater, that drivers so vehemently express the mistakes of others; we can offer valid criticisms when we have a different perspective from the writer (or director, driver, etc.). Sometimes, writers are so entrenched between their own sentences and words that they lose the ability to criticize the theme, fluidity, or overall quality of their paper.

So, get out there! Ask people if your writing is terrible! If they’re honest, you will be able to correct what they dislike before you even turn it in. I’ve done it before, dozens of times, and every time they, the readers, have improved my writing more than I ever could.

Three Tips for Tackling That Paper You Dread Writing

creative abstractby Lesli Mortensen

Don’t tell me modernist poetry isn’t your cup of non-caffeinated soda. You’re kidding.
Writing about the benefits of aquaponics systems doesn’t get your creative juices flowing? Writing can be a struggle even when you care about the subject, but when you have no interest in your topic, writing can seem impossible.

So what do you do when you have to write about a topic as dry as store bought bagels? Well, here are three strategies for tackling those papers you have a hard time caring about.

  1. Liven up your topic

If you have the freedom to pick your topic, this is easy. Write about something that surprises, something that you makes you ask questions and want to know more. If you look for them, you can find interesting topics in any subject you study. If you need ideas, talk to your professor. Your professor knows about interesting developments in the field and can give you great ideas for what to write about.

If your professor assigns you a topic, you can still make your paper more enjoyable to write by focusing on an interesting element/perspective/twist/study on the topic. It will take some research to find an argument or point you want to explore, but if you work at it and ask questions along the way, you will find something interesting to write about.

  1. Make a creative space

Find a place where you can think easily—somewhere you can focus. Turn on some music to help you stay engaged (add hyperlink to past post), or, if you are like me and prefer the quiet, buy yourself some good earplugs. Grab your favorite snacks and drink to make it more enjoyable. Do whatever works for you to make a space where you are comfortable and can think creatively.

  1. Make a schedule and keep to it

If you have a paper coming up that you know will be difficult to write, start on it early. The most daunting paper becomes manageable when you break it down into one or two hour writing sessions. (And that way you don’t have to spend the entire day writing about ancient Greek mythology.) If the thought of writing gives you anxiety, make a writing schedule for yourself. Set aside a time each day (even if it’s just fifteen minutes) just to write. Write about the last movie you saw or basketball game you watched. Work on your writing assignments from your classes. Write about whatever you want, just keep it consistent. By developing the habit of writing each day, your anxiety or frustration with writing will decrease immensely. Words will come more easily, you will be able to come up with ideas quicker, and writing will become much more enjoyable.

And remember, our doors are always open. Whatever stage in the writing process you are at, whether you are trying to find an interesting topic or are struggling to write a daunting assignment, we are here to help.

 

 

Overcoming the Demon of Writer’s Block

by Kristen Blair

We’ve all experienced the awful reality of writer’s block. Staring that paper in the face, unsure of how to begin or how to express yourself. A friend from a killer class put it this way: “I feel like I have an 80% idea of what I’m supposed to be doing, and a 0% idea of how to do it.” Sometimes, it’s the other way around. You have a good idea of how to write, and next to no idea of what you’re supposed to be writing about. When you find yourself in this predicament—as we all do—there are a few simple fixes.

 First of all, it’s important to understand what’s behind the problem of writer’s block. A Writing Center at the University of Illinois wrote that the quickest way to a block is perfectionism. In other words, being unable to begin because you’re afraid of making a mistake. Agonizing over every word hoping for a flawless paper at every stage of the process. Giving up when it’s not absolutely perfect. Psychologist Therese J. Borchard writes that perfectionism causes us to get stuck on trivial details, impeding our progress. So we arrive at the question of the hour: how do we overcome this monster?

1.) Take some deep breaths. Get a glass of water. Grab yourself a snack. Remind yourself that the deadline for your paper is not the end of the world. 

2.) Talk out loud! This seems silly, but we’ve talked about it again and again on this blog. Research suggests that writing is dialogue made formal, and written down. In order to get to that stage, we have to first engage in the dialogue. That’s how we comfortably communicate! Collaboration is the best way to clarify your ideas. Get a buddy, and talk through your paper. Bounce ideas off of each other. (Side note: collaboration is the whole point of the Writing Center.)

3.) Spit your ideas out onto paper (not literally, of course.) This is intimidating when overcoming the perfectionist bug, but it needs to be done. It may be messy and sloppy, but it’s necessary to really getting the creative juices flowing. Once you have your ideas down, you can sort through them and make them organized and coherent. For more tips on organization, see this post.

4.) Congratulate yourself! This is difficult stuff. Once you have your ideas down and you’re working on organization, remember that you’ve conquered the hardest part.  

Overcoming writer’s block is hard, but it’s not impossible. The steps we’ve outlined will make your task manageable and help you to get going. Remember: no draft is ever perfect; writing can always improve no matter what level you’re at. It’s not about perfection, it’s about clarity and organization.