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Tips for Writing in North American Colleges: Conciseness

Summary:

This handout is an introduction to the basics of academic writing conventions for students who are new to American colleges and universities.

Contributors:Michael Maune, Hwanhee Park, Ghada M. Gherwash, Joshua M. Paiz, Tony Cimasko
Last Edited: 2013-06-24 11:53:27

Logical Connections

Academic writers express complex and abstract ideas. When those same ideas are expressed in everyday, spoken English, the explanations may be quite lengthy. But academic writers value efficiency and conciseness in writing. They want their audience to understand their ideas quickly because these ideas often involve complex lines of reasoning and evidence. In order to convey ideas concisely and show the relationships between ideas (i.e. reasoning), academic writers express logical connections between ideas in three main ways: conjunctions, nouns, and verbs (Schleppegrell 56-58).

Logical connections can be expressed through conjunctions, which are short expressions that convey a particular kind of logical relation. The table below shows kinds of logical relations and the conjunctions that convey those relations.

Logical Relation

Addition

Example

Cause

Time

Contrast

Comparison

Conjunctions

and, also, moreover, furthermore, additionally, in addition

for example, for instance, to illustrate

since, because, therefore, so, then, as a result, on account of this, for that purpose

then, next, previously, finally, when

but, however, on the other hand, instead, yet, alternatively

likewise similarly, in the same manner

Example Sentences

Not only does culture vary from place to place, it also varies over time. (A&T 40)

Symbols are things or behaviors to which people give meaning… The U.S. flag, for example is literally a decorated piece of cloth. (A&T 38)

Because culture is learned, members of a given society seldom question the culture of which they are a part… (A&T 38)

The Moon doesn’t disappear completely when there is a lunar eclipse. (C&D 14)

Ultrasounds can pick up abnormalities in the fetus, but further testing needs to be done to confirm Down Syndrome. (C&D 14)

Human biology sets limits and provides certain capacities for human life and the development of culture. Similarly, the envioronment in which humans live estabslishes the possibilities and limitations for human society. (A&T 40)

Adapted from Christie & Derewianka (14) and Halliday & Matthiessen (541) with examples from Christie & Derewianka (14) and Anderson & Taylor (38, 40)

There are certainly many more logical relations than are listed in the table above. Similarly, there are many conjunctions and conjunctive phrases in English. As you can see, conjunctions are used often in academic writing to express logical relations. But logical relationships are also expressed through nouns and verbs (Schleppegrell 57). The next example shows how nouns and verbs can convey these relationships:

1)    The formation of sedimentary rocks is closely associated with water.

2)     One type forms when water carries soil, pebbles, and other particles to the ocean floor where those sediments become rock.

5)    The second method involves chemicals dissolved in water.

6)    By evaporation and precipitation of substances like calcium carbonate, sedimentary rocks can form.

(Morrison, Moore, Armour, Hammond, Haysom, Nicoll, & Smyth 352)

In the example above, the verb phrases and noun phrases in bold signal different kinds of logical relationships. The verb phrase “is closely associated with” expresses the idea that water is part of a process that causes sedimentary rocks to form. The logical relationship between “water” and “the formation of sedimentary rocks” is that of cause. In the next sentence, the word “forms” establishes how “water” causes “one type” to “form.” The relationship is, again, one of cause. The remaining sentences also express a relationship ofcause through the use of the verb “involves” and the nouns “evaporation” and “precipitation.”  By using nouns and verbs to convey logical relationships, academic writers are able to shorten their writing, making it more concise. It allows them to condense many meanings into single words, which allows them to build more complex arguments and establish complicated lines of reasoning (Schleppegrell 57).

Condensed Language

Academic writers condense their complex ideas into a smaller space by transforming longer phrases and sentences into shorter words and phrases. When they do this, they often change the function of the word or phrase (Schleppegrell 71-72). For example, they may turn a verb into a noun, as the example below shows:

1)    Because the telephone was invented, there were many new opportunities for better communication.

2)    The invention of the telephone created many opportunities for enhanced communication.

(Schleppegrell 73) 

In the first sentence, the verb phrase “was invented” is transformed in the second sentence into the noun “invention.” The strategy of turning verbs and adjectives into nouns is common in academic writing. It allows academic writers to create more abstract ideas (expressed in transformed nouns), and then show the relationships between these ideas. The logical relationship expressed in this sentence is cause. In the first sentence, cause is signaled by the conjunction “because.” But in the second sentence, cause is expressed through the verb “created” because it connects “opportunities for enhanced communication” to “the invention of the telephone” (Schleppegrell 72-73) As a result of condensing the language, the second sentence is shorter than the first one, which demonstrates the value of conciseness.

Linear Organization

Academic writers organize their writing in several ways. We will discuss two of the more prominent patterns of organization. The first pattern is linear organization, which means that each idea is directly connected to the idea immediately before it (Martin & Rose 158). Often this will be expressed at the sentence level. Information in a previous sentence will become the start of a new sentence (Schleppegrell 70). For example:

Many astronomers now believe that the radio sources inside quasars are objects known as black holes. The existence of black holes is more or less taken for granted by many astronomers, although no one has ever seen one (Morrison et al. 444).

The topic of “black holes” is introduced at the end of the first sentence. But in the second sentence, “black holes” is near the beginning of the sentence. This organizational strategy is sometimes called given/new. In a given/new sentence, the first part of the sentence contains information that is given, or that was already expressed previously in the text. The new part of a sentence adds new information about the given information. This allows academic writers to build logical lines of reasoning through language (Schleppegrell 70). The example below shows the given/new organization graphically.

 

Given/New

 

Using linear organization is appropriate when you are explaining a sequence of events or steps in a process. For example, if you are explaining the procedures you used in an experiment, linear organization would help convey the information in a concise manner.

Orbital Organization

Another important way academic writers organize their writing is through orbital organization. In orbital organization, a writer identifies a central idea and provides supporting ideas. All of these supporting ideas connect to the central idea (Martin & Rose 24). Academic writers use orbital organization when they want to discuss multiple causes of some event (159). They also use it when they want to explain the factors that contribute to some process (157). Below is a diagram that illustrates how one of the previous examples regarding sedimentary rock shows an orbital organization. The central point of the “formation of sedimentary rock” is represented by the biggest circle. This formation process is caused by a number of factors, including “soil, pebbles, and other particles” being carried by water to the ocean floor (Schleppegrell 69-70). The factors are represented by the smaller circles. The arrows show that all of those factors support the central idea of the “formation of sedimentary rock.”  

The formation of sedimentary rocks is closely associated with water. One type forms when water carries soil, pebbles, and other particles to the ocean floor where those sediments become rock.

Orbital Organization

Orbital organization is often used to organize an entire essay or article. Academic writers often decide on a central idea for their paper and organize supporting ideas around the central idea. The central idea is often called a thesis. The supporting ideas are frequently expressed in the first sentence of each paragraph. These sentences are usually called topic sentences (Christie & Derewianka 71). By using the orbital organization, you can make your ideas clear because the academic audience is familiar with the format. Because it is an established pattern of organization, it also helps focus your writing on your central and supporting points, therefore keeping it concise and efficient.

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