Always in Moderation! Tips for the 'Long-Winded" Writer by Jennifer Kimball

posted Nov 15, 2017, 3:59 PM by Writing Center
There are a multitude of different writing styles and ways that people express themselves in writing.  Some writers are very concise and to the point; they are able to articulate what they want to say in just the right amount of words. However, some people have the opposite problem, as they write too much—long-winded writers. This is not a bad thing! It just means these writers have a different thought process. They may take longer to get their point across, and feel most comfortable drawing out their thoughts, conducting in-depth analysis on subjects. That may also mean that they have difficulty with different types of writing that require brevity, as well as instructor guidelines. The trick is to not to aim for brevity, but moderation in writing.
 

From my experience, page ranges are taken very loosely. A professor assigns a paper that needs to be six to eight pages, so you write ten, maybe twelve. No big deal, as it’s only two to four pages above the top range. If you are a liberal arts majors, you may be use to writing long papers—it’s simply a trend within the field.

For long-winded writers, things like *gasp* enforced page limits intimidate. They did for me too! Then I spent a semester abroad in Scotland, at the University of Stirling, and came across a phrase far more terrifying—character limits. Yes, a limit on words—a device crafted only by the most sadistic of educators! No, but really, this was designed with the goal of teaching students to write concisely, which is an importance skill. The UK educational system taught me that different styles of writing are appropriate depending on the occasion, and to make myself versatile in how I write.

I would like to offer some tips in this endeavor. First off, I advise all writers to think of writing like a budget. Budgeting means prioritizing, and making cuts, so limit the points you want to make.  The trick is to say less, so you can say more. The increase of depth means decrease of breadth, and vice versa. You may have difficulty making your sentences concise, but making an effort to outline what points you want to make in your essay or paper will help immensely. For example, you may be writing a research paper on Medieval poetry, and want to cover the Troubadours, Trouvères, and  Romances, but the 30-page limit means you can only pick two. This is okay, limiting down your topic is the goal of a research paper—you don’t want to be too broad. Limiting what you cover from the get-go will trickle down into your sub-points. Budgeting means making cuts, so prioritize what points you want to make.

Second, try to limit your sources (if applicable). Of course, this is sound advice for any writer, and if you’re a writer who tends to go for in-depth analysis, adding a source can mean adding a half-page (or an entire page...) to your paper. If page limits are a factor, go for quality, not quantity. Those six sources you found for an eight-page paper may need to be cut down to three or four.

The third piece of advice goes more towards the mechanics of writing than its planning and execution—eliminate unnecessary words and phrases. When looking at a paragraph, I try to come up with one sentence that summarizes the point I’m trying to make. I compare the finished product to that sentence. If I digressed, I make cuts, and I do this vigorously. This can shave off valuable space, and teach you to consolidate your points. This also goes for sentences that basically rephrase what you’ve already said. You’d be surprised how many times you repeat yourself in a paper. Go through your paper and look for sections where you repeat earlier points, and eliminate them. Unless it’s your conclusion, avoid repetition.

Remember, more isn’t always better! That fifteen- page research paper you wrote may feel like your pride and joy, but it may also confuse a reader who’s trying to follow your thought process. Balance the principles of breadth and depth, plan your paper with a firm outline, and practice consolidating your thoughts. You can succeed in moderating your points, which is a wonderful goal! This will make you a better writer, and improve your versatility in different rhetorical situations.

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