Writing tips #3: Get to the point!

Some of us (teachers and students alike) are handicapped in delivering what we want to say in the most direct way (17 words) –or to put it another way– we all have trouble being direct (6 words).

Sometimes this weakness arises from a love of words, sometimes from being inattentive, sometimes because we don’t really clearly know what we mean to say.

Here are some common evasions of directness, clarity and persuasiveness that often appear in IB writing. A good exercise would be to take a piece of your own writing for your English or History–or any other course that requires an essay–and check it for the 3 following pitfalls that The Blair Handbook efficiently addresses:

  1. Generalities where you need precision and often, detailed evidence.  ‘The culture of Japan at the time this novel was written was moving toward consumerism.’  Period.  (Where are the examples, what are your sources, where do you intend to do with this, before you move on to “The protagonist reveals this change.’ Period.)  It is a common flaw of IB essays that candidates seem to believe general assertions or pronouncements can stand on their own without supporting evidence from the literary text they are discussing.
  2. ‘Idle words.’  We are all good at this.  Some of the most common:  ‘It is clear that’ (clearly) or ‘it is a fact that,'(in fact) ‘the reason is that….’ (because). There are a lot of others. Walk through your essay and see where you can cut these down to one or two words.  Sometimes are you using these to get your essay up to the expected limit, perhaps?  Do better!  Deliver some substance instead.
  3. Pretentiousness  There really is a lot of this usage in IB essays and it often tends to occur where candidates are using secondary sources. ‘The High Academic Voice’ takes over your head and you find yourself writing like someone you are not.   You are at the stage of your life where you have developed or are developing your own voice for formal writing: just be sure it is yours, not your teacher’s or the critical writing you read and very often this sort of pretension shows up not only in your less than precise language but in the length of your sentences, where you seem to imply that many words make much meaning.

The final task here is to scrutinize the above message and take out all the unnecessary verbiage; it will be good practice for keeping a sharper eye on your own writing.

 

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