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Style

Summary:

The resources available in this section provide the user with the materials that they would need to hold a writing workshop for graduate students. While these resources do not target a particular kind of writing (e.g., writing for courses, writing for publication, or writing thesis and dissertations), it does provide the needed structure act as a sort of graduate student writing workshop-in-a-box.

Contributors:Gracemarie Mike
Last Edited: 2014-06-10 09:07:17

About This Handout

When we write, we spend much of our energy on developing our ideas, making sure that we include all necessary information and that our ideas flow together logically. While the content and structure of our papers are crucial for ensuring communication, we also need to spend time developing the style of our writing to increase clarity and understanding. Though each discipline will have its own specifications for its preferred style of writing, several principles of style are widely accepted in academic writing contexts in the U.S.

Subjects

In grammar, a subject of a sentence is described as the thing in the sentence doing the action. One key to a clear writing style is to make open sentences with short concrete subjects that make it easy for readers to understand who or what is responsible for the action in the sentence. Consider the difference in the following two sentences:

 

The obtaining of more consistent data was achieved by modifying the process.
More consistent data was obtained by modifying the process.  

By rewriting the sentence to use a shorter, more concrete subject, we can shorten the length of our sentences and make our writing easier to understand. Shortening the subjects of our sentences also lets readers get to the verb faster, helping them to see the sentence’s action more quickly.

Verbs

In general, it’s helpful to use strong, specific verbs. Try to stay away from conjugations of the verb “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), as well as the verbs “has,” “have,” and “had”. Though it often feels natural to use these verbs, they don’t offer much concrete information about what’s happening in a sentence. Consider the following two examples:

The difference in the two studies is their methods.
The two studies employ different methods.

Again, we can create shorter, more direct sentences by using a strong, concrete verb. Further, the use of a verb like “employ” gives readers more information about the differences between the two studies.

Wordiness

In general, wordiness means to use more words than necessary to convey a thought. Especially in scientific and business writing contexts, concision is considered to be important because it adds clarity while saving readers time. We can avoid wordiness by deleting excess words and condensing our language. Look at the two sets of examples below to see wordy phrases (and their revisions):

The results basically occurred because of the various different approaches that were implemented in an accurate manner. 
The results occurred because of the different approaches that were accurately implemented.
The company’s response to the problem was unusual in nature.
The company responded unusually to the problem.  

Again, avoiding wordiness can shorten the length of writing, making it easier for readers to understand our points.

 Questions for Revision 

1) What do the subjects of the sentences in this paper look like? Are they able to be condensed in any way?
2) Is it possible to combine sentences in order to use fewer subjects?
3) Are there any places where a pronoun (he, she, it, they) could be used to shorten a subject?
4) Are there many forms of “to be” used in this paper (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been)? Are the used heavily or sparingly?
5) Are the verbs “has,” “have,” and “had” used heavily or sparingly?
6) Are the verbs located near to their subjects?
7) Are excess words or phrases used?
8) Are there any redundant words?
9) Are there any nominalizations (using verbs as a noun), e.g. “realization” for “realize” or “decision” for “decide”?  
Works Cited

 

Williams, Joseph M. and Gregory G. Colomb. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 10th ed. Pearson Education: Boston, 2010. Print. 

 

 

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