Updated: Feb 7
Use simple words. Everyone wants to use big words, and long sentences. But this leads to several problems. First and foremost big words are boring, and so are run-on sentences. Next, using large vocabulary terms doesn’t always make us sound smarter. Words that are too formal, too advanced, or too obscure for a conversation’s context can make the speaker look arrogant. And on top of that, too much jargon makes speech difficult to follow. This is especially true when ESL students are communicating between themselves; If one student’s English is significantly better than another’s, they may not understand each other well. When communicating any sort of idea, simplify your words as much as possible without sacrificing information. Remember, it is possible to make ideas complex without making them complicated. Complex pieces of writing can convey large concepts in compact packages (think Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto). Complicated pieces of writing are unnecessarily long, confusing, and hard to follow logically (think of any work by Shakespeare, which even native speakers often need translated into readable English).
Write shorter sentences. Many people think that long sentences are great. They feel that like large words, long sentences make them sound smarter. But this isn’t always true. Using sentences that are too long confuses the reader because they are hard to follow. It’s best to use shorter sentences whenever possible, especially when presenting complex ideas. Doing so allows the audience to better engage with texts. To save your audience’s time and energy, remove all unnecessary words and sentences. Consider the following examples: a) In 2006, Daniel Oppenheimer, then a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, published research arguing that the use of clear, simple words over needlessly complex ones can actually make authors appear more intelligent.* b) Daniel Oppenheimer was a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton. His research argued that using clear, simple words can make writers appear more intelligent. Both of these sentences convey essentially the same information, but Example A needs 36 words to do the job. Example B only needs 26 words. That’s a difference of 10 words. At first glance, this isn’t much. But think of it this way: if you can cut 10 words off of 10 different sentences, you’ve spared your audience from reading 100+ unnecessary syllables! In longer writing pieces, these small removals add up. As a matter of fact, while revising this article's first draft, we removed more than 300 words! Wordiness in writing is especially common in academia. It’s true that all fields of study require the use of “jargon,” or specific terminology, to distinguish between advanced concepts. However, it doesn’t matter whether or not the reader is an expert in your field. Using jargon and run-on sentences together will confuse them. Therefore, it’s especially important for academics to revise their writing and ensure that any filler has been removed, and complicated sentences reduced.
Write like you speak. Avoid trying to write like a professional author (unless you’re a novelist, of course). Instead, try to write the same way you speak. Written English is often more formal than spoken English, but trying too hard to write with formality makes writing sound awkward when read out loud. ESL students with less writing experience also risk using unnatural sentence structures when writing formally. This makes it more difficult for native speakers to interpret meaning. Many people find it easiest to convey ideas verbally. As a rule, it’s always a great idea to read your writing aloud before deciding that a final draft is complete. If it feels awkward to say, chances are high that it’s also awkward to read.
Don't exaggerate without justification. Too many writers wrongly associate exaggeration with intensity. Being highly descriptive has its benefits, but using words that are too strong for a given situation can negatively affect an author’s credibility. Obviously, inflating quantifiable data (like numbers) is unacceptable. But many don’t realize that using intense adjectives and misrepresenting situations are bad practices too! Readers may feel manipulated when situations are framed to appeal to particular opinions or emotions. When this happens, they may not even finish the text. Ensure word choice is appropriate for the context. Justify any written opinions. When making assertions or including facts, research properly beforehand. Remember: if you can’t cite it, don’t write it!
Prioritize writing goals. It’s easy to wander off topic without realizing it. To avoid this, take time to create a clear outline of whatever is being written. Remember, most writing pieces need a beginning, a middle, and an end. They often begin by taking a specific stance, stated at the beginning of the document. This thesis statement is then used to introduce supporting points (the middle), which lead to conclusions (the end). In other words, the thesis statement establishes the writer’s goal; it can be referenced to ensure that each supporting point works towards achieving the task’s purpose.
Revise, edit, and cut, cut, cut. Most writers will review their work once. Many writers won’t review it at all. Neither habit is acceptable. Constant revision produces the best work. This doesn’t mean a writer needs to completely re-draft a piece with every revision. Instead, greater emphasis is placed upon reducing what has already been written. Earlier in this article, it was suggested to write short sentences. This helps readers follow main ideas more easily. Revising with a careful eye and cutting as much filler as possible helps writers present their ideas directly and succinctly. In conclusion, applying the tips from above will instantly improve almost any writing piece. For more advice related to specific writing styles, schedule a free consultation session today here, or using the widget below. Discuss your style, review your writing for grammar and spelling errors, or receive feedback on your essay’s structure and organization. With Hahn English, personalized support is just a few clicks away. Let’s talk.