Why be succinct? A student's chief concern may sometimes be to ADD words to fulfill a word or page requirement. Such papers, however, are weighed down by their wordiness. Succinctness gives your prose a forcefulness impossible with words that serve no purpose—i.e., empty, useless words. Forceful prose moves, and it pulls your reader along with it. By contrast, a reader can nearly drown in a sea of excess verbiage. If you somehow came away from high school under the impression that florid writing is good writing, you will do well to abandon that myth immediately; say exactly what you mean, and don't risk obscuring your meaning by shrouding it in a cloud of vacant prose. We will leave that to the experts: bureaucrats!
One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, George Orwell, is often cited for his adage to never use a long word where a short one will do. This requires that you consult a thesaurus only rarely; it's fine to seek alternatives for essential words in your essay, but it's a good rule of thumb to prefer English words whose roots are Germanic rather than Greek or Latinate—for example, "he chewed" has more bite, so to speak, than "he masticated." Just think how potent those Germanic four-letter words are, and you'll get my point.
Here's a test for your own writing: see how many words you can eliminate without losing the intended meaning. Be especially alert to empty or inflated phrases, such as "the fact that," "in this time period," and "in the event that." (A longer—and handy—list appears on p. 3 of Diana Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual, fourth edition, used in Historical Writing and Senior Seminar.) I find the following phrases particularly useless and thus galling: "in the area of" (why not say "math" rather than "in the area of math"?); "despite the fact that" (how about "even though"?); and the increasingly popular "as to" ("our understanding as to the word's meaning" stinks compared to "our understanding of the word's meaning").
Can you tighten the belt on the following sentences by eliminated excess words?
1. He is a gifted student in the areas of math and science and in the study of English and history.
2. The trees are beautiful, and the mountains are beautiful, despite the fact that we must view them through a curtain of brownish, ugly haze.
3. Ronald is employed at an oil company working as a manager.
4. In the event that the Angels go to the World Series, it is my opinion that they stand a very good chance of repeating their performance of two years ago.
5. There are a multitude of reasons for students to feel overwhelmed at the present time.
Next, I share with you several sentences* in which a well-known statement has been practically lost amid verbose and florid phrasing. See if you can identify the original statement.
1. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man salubrious, opulent, and sagacious.
2. A chronic disposition for inquiry once caused a domestic feline quadruped to lose its vital qualities.
3. At this point in time I have not yet initiated action to exercise the defensive and/or offensive capabilities available to me or employ the full spectrum of my weaponry.
4. Do not, however disadvantageous the circumstances, permit yourselves to be forced into a position in which you must acquiesce in the transfer of ownership of this vessel to persons owing allegiance to a country whose interests are inimical to those of ours.
5. You are enjoined from discharging the arms with which you are equipped until you are able to perceive certain distinguishing characteristics in the visages of those who seek to deprive you of the occupancy of this area.
6. Having arrived upon the scene, I initiated reconnaissance actions to determine the dispositions of the opposing forces, and proceeded to attain the maximal strategic objective.
7. Illumination of these premises shall be terminated through activation of the extinguishing lever by the occupants prior to terminal departure.
8. I must be given maximum latitude to enjoy the benefits of our country, unfettered by degrading restrictions on my activities; if I am denied this privilege I would prefer to be permanently eliminated from the exercise of my viable functions.
9. Refrain from attempting to ascertain specifically what benefits you may accrue from this beloved homeland of yours, but contrariwise endeavor to identify what ministration you might gratuitously proffer in its behalf.
Finally, and closer to the stomach, try making chocolate chip cookies (using the usual ingredients) with these directions written by a bureaucrat!**
After procurement actions, decontainerize inputs. Perform measurement tasks on a case-by-case basis. In a mixing type bowl, impact heavily on brown sugar, granulated sugar, softened butter, and shortening. Coordinate the interface of eggs and vanilla, avoiding an overrun scenario to the best of your skills and abilities.
At this point in time, leverage flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and aggregate. Equalize with prior mixture and develop intense and continuous liaison among inputs until well coordinated. Associate key chocolate and nut subsystems and execute stirring operations.
Within this time frame, take action to prepare the heating environment for throughput [this is a word?!] by manually setting the oven baking unit by hand to a temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Drop mixture in an ongoing fashion from a teaspoon implement onto an ungreased cookie sheet at intervals sufficient enough apart to permit total and permanent separation of throughputs to the maximum extent practicable under operating conditions.
Position cookie sheet in a bake situation and surveil [not technically a verb] for 8 to 10 minutes or until cooking action terminates. Initiate coordination of outputs within the cooling rack function. Containerize, wrap in red tape, and disseminate to authorized staff personnel on a timely and expeditious basis.
Output: six dozen official government chocolate cookie units.
(**By Susan E. Russ, from the Washington Post, date unknown)