Have you watched someone give a speech that went on and on, and you thought, “I could have said that in a couple of sentences?” We all know how annoying wordiness can be, from hearing a neighbor talk about her cat to a Facebook friend’s disgustingly romantic, way-to-long post about her incredible boyfriend.
In the academic world, wordiness is a big problem, known to turn amazing ideas into confusion and hide great points in a deep mound of words. When you have a long paper and not enough information, adding extra filler words seems to be the logical solution, but it is rarely the best solution.
One type of wordiness that is common in academic papers involves too much description. Although vivid description is good, even necessary, overdoing it can be overwhelming. For instance, you could say A small, loud, stubborn, blonde, nine-year-old girl ran to the run-down, brown, busy store down the short road from her white, newly-built, two-story home with the red Ford truck in the gravel driveway. This is very detailed, but it is a lot to throw at the reader all at once. You should select the most important details, such as The nine-year-old girl ran to the store down the road from her house. You can mention other details later, if they are necessary.
Another form of wordiness occurs when a writer gives too much information. What would you think if you read the following sentence: The new gym teacher, who teaches physical education, just started working at the school, and she coaches the basketball teams for both genders, boys and girls. Do you feel frustrated? It’s obvious that a new teacher recently started working at a school, a gym teacher teaches physical education, and both genders means boys and girls. Don’t underestimate your reader. If something is obvious, there is no need to say it in two different ways.
Another wordy condition that can affect college students is thesaurusitis. This occurs when students use complicated words to express their ideas, usually because they want to sound smart. A great example of this comes from ‘90s television. In one episode of Friends, Joey writes a recommendation letter in which he calls Chandler and Monica humid, prepossessing Homo sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps. Joey was trying to say that they were warm, nice people with big hearts. Although it’s fine to use complex words within reason, make sure they do not bog down your ideas. Clarity is the most important thing in writing. After all, why use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice?
Although avoiding wordiness may be fine in principle, it is tough to do when you’re dealing with minimum word counts and page limits. When you find yourself with extra space and not much to say, avoid the temptation to include filler words. Research some more facts; add some more of your own thoughts. Your reader will appreciate the effort.
WarnerJordanEducation. “Word Choice – Friends – Adoption Letter.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.
After you graduate with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in English, there will be a huge number of opportunities waiting for you, and try for each one! After I graduated with my BA, I was offered positions at two newspapers, a medical school for writing grants (I have previous medical experience), and also a few advertising companies. Don’t go into this degree with expectations of “I will have this job,” because it won’t happen right out of school. You have to put in more and more work to get there; the degree is just the start! Personally, I did a year’s worth of Master’s hours and was offered a Teaching Assistantship. I graciously accepted the offer, and I now teach Comp I and Comp II at Southeast Missouri State University, while having a few other part-time jobs, all related to those various classes I took in my English education. My major piece of advice is to do everything you can for experience – go to conferences, publish creative and academic works, volunteer, teach, edit, and write everything down on your CV. It’s never too early to start building your professional portfolio!
Employers Like English Majors
We are trained how to write effectively.
We know how to read.
We know how to read well.
We can think critically.
We can mold ourselves into tight situations in a work environment.
We can also say the meanest things, with the nicest smile, and have you thank us after they’re said.
There is always a need for workers with a grasp on reality, work place politics, and excellent written expression skills. People continually strive to be better readers, writers, and thinkers, and studying English will teach you these things. As math is the language of science, English is the language of humanities.
English Majors are Fun
When you’re around other English majors / degree holders, you will realize that we’re a fun group of people! Part of the beauty of the humanities is that individuals’ background experiences make their way into how they act and think as an academic. In the sciences, personal experiences and opinion are not as valuable as in literature or language. We can write about diversity, opinion, and perspective, arguing with one another for entire class periods or meetings, then make-up in the hallway, as the heated discussion was just for fun. Sometimes, these collaborations turn into “Fluffing Contests,” where you compete with your peers in trying to expand and deepen thoughts / ideas.
Loser buys Starbucks.
Everyone has a process for creating. Whether you make art, take photographs, or just plan a route for a cross country trip, there is a process involved. For some people, this entire process takes place in their head. Others might require a visual map of their ideas. And then there are people that feel like they need to talk about their ideas to really feel them out. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to first improve your creating process.
So, how do you do that?
First of all, you should figure out how you specifically create. Think about the last time you had a long assignment. How did you come up with ideas?
- Did you jot notes down before you started writing?
- Did you have any kind of plan of attack?
- Did you have some kind of organization in your head?
- Did you research what you were planning on talking about?
You’ll want to think about this for a few minutes…
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Did you think about your process? Believe it or not, you just started brainstorming.
If you’re still having trouble figuring out what to write, just start writing. Yes, what you’re working with might not work at all with your final draft, but that’s not the point. As you write, you will most likely think of new ideas, refine your current ideas, and ultimately produce an actual draft–albeit probably imperfect–you can work with.
If you’re a visual person, like me, you might want to start by doing a mind map. A mind map is an illustration that looks like a web with the topic you are working on in the center of the paper. I usually then draw several lines growing from the topic that I will attach subtopics to.
To get a better feel of what I’m talking about check out Freeplane, an open source software specifically made for creating mind maps. There is also MindMeister which offers Google Drive plugins and collaborative mind map options–be aware that some of the features of MindMeister require a subscription to the service.
If you’re someone that feels out their way through a topic by discussion, try just recording yourself talking about it. There are several free apps for mobile phones and computers that will do clear audio recording. I think what you’ll discover is that when talking about whatever you’re having a hard time writing over, the words just kind of come out to fill the silence. You’ll list off ideas you might have thought were silly off the top of your head before your mind has a chance to dismiss them. Now they have been recorded. Your ideas might not be perfect in the raw, but now you’ll have some items to consider and meditate on as you go forward with your topic.
Arguably, one of the hardest parts of writing is figuring out how to get started. Enhancing and refining those brainstorming skills will enhance not only your first drafts but your critical thinking skills in general. You’ll become quicker as you work at it!