Let’s do ‘Concision’ Again, Okay? (1 of 16)
The Value of Concision
Okay, this is the first of yet another series about ‘concision’. I have given several long ‘concision’ series of posts before, but it’s an ongoing problem with IELTS writing, and (in my opinion), one of the biggest, and one of the reasons why IELTS marks are limited in this country. So, let’s make this series – say – 16 posts, okay?
So, what’s the big deal about ‘concision’? Unfortunately, there is much IELTS ‘preparation’ out there teaching you long weird sentences, full of redundancy and fluff. Authors write books of ‘model’ sentences to remember, trying to create ‘style’ and ‘collocation’. The worst of these simply cannot be understood, but even what seems like an efficient sentence is often overwritten. I correct IELTS writing from my students everyday, so I am constantly getting examples of over-written sentences to correct. Your writing has to look as clear, efficient, and pretty as that hedge in the picture above.
Let’s consider my IELTS Writing Books. The Task–One book has Tip 6. T Task–Two book has Tip 10. They both have the same name: CUT THE FLUFF! What is fluff? What’s wrong with fluff?
Let’s jump to a nice quote from a famous book called ‘The Elements of Style’, by Professor Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University. The book was first published in the 1930s, and is now considered a classic. Here is Professor Strunk’s Rule 17, and his explanation to it.
Rule 17: Omit Needless Words
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Well, my rule is exactly the same: Cut the fluff! Fluff = unnecessary words, unnecessary sentences, and unnecessary thoughts. An important word is ‘concise’ and ‘concision’. On Page 17 of my Writing Task Two book, ‘concise’ is defined as …
Concise = the words are not repetitive; every word is meaningful and counts.
This is similar to Professor Strunk’s ‘[make] every word tell’. In my book, Page 33, compares the sentence
When people try to park cars in cities, they usually find it difficult.
… with …
Parking in cities is usually difficult.
… and concludes, states …
This new sentence is much shorter, and makes the same point. That is, the sentence is concise, and concision is a sign of a good writer.
And, I’ll quote Professor William Strunk Jr. one more time.
When a sentence is made shorter, it is usually made stronger.
Exactly! I sometimes think that I share some of Professor Strunk’s DNA. In IELTS Writing, his rule (which is my rule) should be your rule. So, I recently was correcting an essay which had the following two sentences.
If a thief carries a gun and enters a house to attempts to steal something, the owner could protect himself by using his own weapon. If that same owners happens to be without any weapon, and tries to call 911 for help at the time the burglar is there, he could be unable to wait for support to come, and the injury may have already happened. [66 words]
But I changed these sentences to just one.
Home owners can better defend against armed burglars, since calling for help is too slow. [15 words]
… which is much stronger and much clearer (and less than one quarter of the words!!!). All the unnecessary detail and repetition has been removed, You can see much better see and understand what the writer wants to say. That ‘hedge’ is now neat, clean, and clear.
So, if a sentence can make the same point in fewer words, WRITE THAT SENTENCES! Apart from being stronger and clearer, you then have time to …
- move on,
- say more,
- and achieve more of the task.
That sounds like a good thing to do, right? That sounds like it can help raise your IELTS mark, doesn’t it? Well, it can, and that can be proved by looking at the public version of the IELTS band descriptors, which states that …
Coherence & Cohesion IELTS 7 = there is clear progression throughout
Task Response IELTS 7 = presents, extends, and supports main ideas
The next post of this series will move straight into exercises.
By the way, you can learn more about me at www.aisielts.com .