December 15, 2021
This semester, one area that I focused on is how concision affects the way we communicate and write. Last semester while working on WriteAway, I often gave the suggest to “be more concise” in the little words and turns of phrases that the student was using. But what exactly is concision? An inconcise sentence can be defined has “one with needless words” (Dermer et al. 4), thus advising students to change “this is due to the fact that” to “because” and so on. However, this semester I started realizing that this definition is incomplete. Concision is not solely about the words we use—although they are, of course, important—but it is also about communicating our ideas effectively and charitably. It should never be the goal of a writer to trick the reader with unnecessarily grandiose and complex language in an attempt to sound more intelligent. A writer’s intelligence is demonstrated by insightfully communicating their ideas to their audience.
Excessive words and ideas are an aspect of a student’s writing style: “style refers to those features of a behavior or a behavioral product that may vary while maintaining its primary functions” (Dermer et al. 4). A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee found that “a prevalent, undesirable feature of undergraduate writing is inconcision” (Dermer et al. 4), but with proper teaching and practice, students easily pick up concision. As a tutor, I never want to change the student’s tone of voice in their writing; with proper teaching and practice, a student’s personality can still shine through their writing when they employ concision.
In regard to concision, one success story from this semester stands out to me, as I saw vast improvement between only two sessions. I have a reoccurring student that struggles with inconcision, both on a word level but also sentence and idea level. In particular, his sentences and paragraphs are often too long. I decided to implement an approach he has never tried before to see if it worked. I told him to write the introduction paragraph the way he wanted to during his own time, in between our sessions, and he came to the next session with a 15-sentence introduction paragraph. Then, together, we were able to pinpoint his big idea, main points and condense them into 5 sentences. He was surprised at how he was able to communicate his exact ideas in fewer words. He left the session happy, relieved, and satisfied, which made me feel the same way too.
This success encouraged me to continue suggesting this approach. It’s helpful to revise and condense with a secondary pair of eyes, but I do think this technique could be done individually as well. It is extremely rewarding to see immediate progress in student’s work, but even more so to see them continually implement these changes in future writing.
Dermer, Marshall L., et al. “Fluency Training a Writing Skill: Editing for Concision.” Psychological Record, vol. 59, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 3–20. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/BF03395646.