Two Misconceptions about Writing:
1) Revising is only about adding to a piece of writing—adding more details, explaining more
fully, fleshing out a paper.
Yes, as you revise, you should expand and deepen your ideas, which will typically
lengthen your paper.
But while you should add and develop your content, you should sharpen
of that content, which often means making sentences and paragraphs shorter and
tighter (and sometimes means removing sentences altogether).
So revising is not just about
adding; at the sentence and paragraph level, it’s also about
trimming away the
When we write first drafts, we try to put down all of our material before we forget it.
The fear of
losing or forgetting an idea causes us to repeat ourselves.
The speed with which we express ideas
in a first draft causes us to say things in overly complicated fashion—we’re not worried about
getting it right, just getting it down.
A crucial part of revising is removing repetition and redundancy (so we only say things once) and
translating awkward, overlong statements into tight, concise ones.
Putting as much effort into
sharpening as into expanding is often the difference between a good paper and a merely okay one.
2) If your writing is straightforward, it will imply your ideas are shallow and you are
We produce good writing by trying to impress our reader—and we can do that
with intentionally obscure words, ambiguity, more complex sentence structure, and
longer/more formal-sounding phrases (like “due to the fact that” instead of “because”).
what impresses us about a writer is his/her large vocabulary or
More often, though, especially in persuasive situations rather than artistic
ones (papers instead of literary works), what is impressive about a piece of writing is not obscure
words or complicated sentences, but clarity and directness—clarity that enables us to understand
the writer’s point fully (in fact, makes it impossible for us to miss it)
that indicates the writer’s
control of the language and his/her ideas, two things which are sure to impress.
If we aim for “impressiveness” instead of clarity (as some students do, refusing to use certain
words because they feel they are too normal or common, as if individual words rather than the
flow of ideas determines quality), we often wind up with pretentious overwriting.
Better to aim for
clarity and directness and impress because you have succeeded.
One result of these two misconceptions: we often overwrite.
-We repeat points/ideas;
-we use awkward, overlong sentences and phrases;
-and we sometimes forsake clarity and directness in a misguided attempt at “sophistication” or
What we can do: