The Best Papers Say More With Less

Many students are required to purchase—and perhaps even read—an invaluable writer’s tool known as Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Possibly the most important of the 22 rules that make up the first half of this wonderful guide is number 17, which simply states, “Omit needless words.”

I think there are two primary reasons why so many students tend to go overboard with unnecessary words in their papers: They haven’t done the research and are trying to hide the fact by over-writing; or they think that the paper will sound more scholarly if it is filled with obscure, big, or a high volume of words. To the former group, a tip: Your professor is reading for content and will notice if you don’t know the material. To the latter group: If you know your topic, you’ll sound far more scholarly by discussing it simply and accurately—don’t force your reader to dig out a dictionary.

A capable editor can help you weed out the unnecessary words without changing your content or meaning. To paraphrase Strunk and White, a paper with too many unnecessary words is like a laptop with two keyboards—if you can do the job with one, why carry two?

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