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Writing in English. Concision

Interuniversity Style Guide

    The content of these guidelines is taken from the Vives University Network’s Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Institutional Texts, an interuniversity project in which the UPC participated with the support of the Secretariat for Universities and Research of the Government of Catalonia.

     

    Reduce clauses

    • Reduce clauses to simpler, shorter constructions. 

      *The URV, which was founded in 1994, is the university of southern Catalonia.
      Founded in 1994, the URV is the university of southern Catalonia.

     

    Delete superfluous words and phrases

    • Delete all phrases and words that add nothing to the meaning or provide excessive detail.

      *The effect of the application of the new economic measures can be seen in last month's figures, and it goes without saying that the University is aware of the new policy on tax deduction and that it has every intention of complying with the regulations.
      The effect of the new economic measures can be seen in last month's figures, and the University intends to comply with the new regulations on tax deduction.

     

    Avoid nominalisations

    • Use verbs to express actions, not clumsy nominalisations.

      *This report is dedicated to the discussion of the new economic measures.
      This report discusses the new economic measures.

     

    Avoid overuse of expletives

    • Expletives are expressions that combine it or there with the verb be. They can be effectively used for emphasis at times but overuse can create unnecessarily lengthy prose. Use them sparingly.

      *It is the rector who will have the last word on this issue.
      The rector will have the last word on this issue.

     

    Do not make vague attributions

    • Authors often try to justify their statements by suggesting they have acquired the information from an authoritative source. If you wish to refer to a source, however, do not do so vaguely as in the following example. A straightforward statement is preferable to a vague attribution.

      *Student registrations have been observed to be increasing in some subjects that were previously determined to be unfashionable.
      It has been shown that visiting lecturers have been using this new resource.
      Student registrations have been increasing in some previously unfashionable subjects.
      Visiting lecturers have been using this new resource.

     

    Make direct statements

    • Do not feel obliged to provide a brief introduction to every statement you make. Often, no introduction is necessary.

      *With regard to good students, their most important characteristic is the ability to work hard.
      The most important characteristic of good students is the ability to work hard.

     

    Do not hedge excessively

    • When you write, you are often not certain of the facts and are obliged to hedge (that is to say, introduce elements of doubt and uncertainty into your texts). If you need to hedge, though, do so just once.

      *It could be possible that economic factors and the decline in immigration may be affecting student numbers.
      Economic factors and the decline in immigration may be affecting student numbers.

     

    Summary

    • One of the main problems of writing clearly and effectively is that there will always be a gap between what you want to say and what your readers may understand. The principles outlined above will help you overcome this. Remember that they are only guidelines, not inflexible rules, but they will give you a general idea about how most university texts should be written. In a nutshell, the principles of clear writing are the following:

    • Give your documents a clearly defined structure. The sections and subsections and their corresponding headings should guide readers towards meaning.
    • Write sentences of different types and lengths. This will give your texts variety. But beware of excessively long sentences!
    • Make the important characters of your text the subjects of your sentences.
    • Express actions not as abstract nouns (nominalisations) but as verbs.
    • Make sure that the main verb is towards the beginning of the sentence by avoiding long introductory phrases, keeping your subjects short and not putting any other information immediately after the subject.
    • Begin sentences with information that you believe is familiar to readers and end sentences with what you believe is new or unfamiliar. Make sure that your most important characters occupy the subject position as often as possible.
    • Ensure that all the elements of a list are expressed in the same grammatical form.
    • Avoid long strings of prepositional phrases and sentences that only have weak verbs.
    • Once you have completed your text, revise it for concision.