The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing

By Michael Harvey | Go to book overview

1 Concision

CONCISION, leanness of words, is a natural place to begin because wordiness is so common in student writing and because (unlike losing weight) being concise isn't really so hard. It usually works by process of elimination: we watch what we say, ask ourselves whether what we've said is essential to what we mean, and eliminate what isn't. The real work is often figuring out what exactly we wanted to say in the first place. But trying to be concise helps with that too—by helping us see what we don't mean.

Concision can add remarkable grace to our prose. It also makes our prose easier to read and understand. Yet many of us are afraid of writing concisely because doing so can make us feel exposed. Concision leaves us fewer words to hide behind. our insights and ideas might appear puny stripped of those inessential words, phrases, and sentences in which we rough them out. We might even wonder, were we to cut out the fat, would anything be left? It's no wonder, then, that many students make little attempt to be concise—may, in fact, go out of their way not to be—and so often couple this strategy with a style just as mistaken. Though you can certainly be wordy without writing pompously—and the other way around—the two go hand in hand so often that it's useful to consider them together. Here's how lots of students think they have to write in college:

Prospero is faced with the necessity of deciding whether to accept for-
giveness for the actions of his brother or remain in a state of hostility.
It is evident that interpersonal conflict is responsible for many organiza-
tional problems experienced by businesses.

The role of women in households in medieval Europe was arrayed across
a number of possibilities of increasing or decreasing activity and indepen-
dence, depending on variables such as status, wealth, religion, or region.

That's the collegiate pompous style in action: big words, self-important phrasing, a flat tone, long gobs of prepositional phrases, nouns galore, and abuse of the passive voice—all of it run up the flag pole to see if the powers that be will salute.

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The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1: Concision 1
  • 2: Clarity 10
  • 3: Flow 22
  • 4: Punctuation 34
  • 5: Gracefulness 46
  • 6: Using Sources 56
  • 7: Paragraphs 69
  • 8: Beginnings and Endings 78
  • Appendix - Document and Citation Formats 86
  • Works Cited 103
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