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The effect your words create
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Finding the best words

Being concise

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Development Level Advice

Being concise

Why is this important?

In academic work it is important to get your message across in as few words as possible. 'Being concise' is often an assessment criterion.

This is because:

  • putting an idea over in few words can show you have understood its essence
  • tutors would rather see 10 ideas in 500 words than 1 idea and a lot of padding
  • busy people are irritated by having to read lots of words with little meaning.

Most pieces of work have word limits, to show how much work is expected. The following will not get a good mark or grade:

  • adding extra words to meet the word limit
  • going way over the limit (this suggests you cannot focus on essentials).
How can you write concisely?

It is easier to write concisely if you know a wide range of words. It can be hard to write concisely using only short or simple words.

You could use single words instead of groups of words.

Example
The committee took into consideration the adoption of the proposal.

This is shorter and says the same thing.
The committee considered adopting the proposal.

A dictionary and thesaurus can help.

Writing concisely takes time. It helps to make several drafts before the final version.

Punctuation can also help to reduce words (see the Punctuation topic in the Main Menu)

Example
This was the author's first attempt at a paragraph for this section (63 words).
Version 1 *Most pieces of work have a word limit. This is to give you an idea of how much work is expected. Filling up the word limit with excess words will not get a good mark or grade and going a long way over the limit will not either, because it suggests that you cannot identify what is essential and write about it concisely.

This is the final version (43 words).
Version 2 Most pieces of work have word limits, to show how much work is expected. The following will not get good marks or grades: adding extra words to meet the word limit; going way over the limit (this suggests you cannot focus on essentials).

How has the author reduced the number of words?

  • Used one word instead of a group of words
    e.g. This is to give you an idea of becomes to show
  • Missed words out and replaced them with punctuation
    e.g. ...a word limit. This is to... becomes ...a word limit, to...
Making work concise but readable

There is a balance between work being concise and readable.

For example, if to make your work short you have reduced the number of verbs in a sentence, it can make your work hard to read. Sentences with more verbs tend to be easier to read.

Example
The verbs are in bold.

Transport systems in cities are often over-stretched and find it difficult to cope with the number of vehicles and travellers using the roads, and this is especially so when people are going to or from work.

This has one verb. It is harder to read.

Over-stretched city transport systems cope with difficulty with the number of vehicles and travellers on the roads, especially at work arrival or leaving times.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004