The Value of Concision (1 of 30)
Okay, after having written no less than 50 (!) posts all about the nature of English-language teaching and the sad, backwards, and fraudulent world of IELTS/English teaching in Taiwan (and all the consumer advice you need to know), I’ll move on. To what? What’s the next step? [er …. there’s the link to the above picture].
Well, now, I’ll go back to helping you directly with the English language and your IELTS writing. I’ll look at ‘concision’. I have given ‘concision’ 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.
I correct IELTS writing from my students everyday, so I am constantly getting examples of over-written sentences to correct. Just a few days ago, I had a students who wrote,
Government should commit funds to increasing the budget on education.
I had underlined this, and put ‘WW’ (= Wrong words) under several of the words, and the student argued that it was a good sentence since it was from a ‘famous’ book (from mainland China, written by a Chinese person, titled something like … ‘IELTS 7 in 10 days’). I said, ‘Why don’t you just write,
Government should spend more on education.
The student insisted the first sentence was better because it was in an IELTS book which, ‘Everyone says is good.’ Then I asked,
- Who’s the author of that book? Ans.: [a first name]
- Is he a qualified teacher? Ans.: ‘I don’t know.’
- Is he an IELTS examiner? Ans.: ‘No.’
- Is he cultural western? Ans.: ‘No’.
- Do you know anything at all about that author? Ans.: ‘Not really.’
- Are there proven crendential on the back cover? Ans.: ‘I don’t know.’
- Did you look for these? Ans.: ‘No.’
- So why do you trust that book? Ans.: [Silence / No answer]
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 (as in the example I just gave) is often overwritten.
So, let’s look at concision again, and since there are 30 posts to this series, a couple of introductory posts are needed. This is the first of them.
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, at the bottom, 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.
I sometimes think that I share some of Professor Strunk’s DNA. His rule (which is my rule) should be your rule in IELTS Writing. If a sentence can make the same point in fewer words, WRITE THAT SENTENCES! 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
Let’s continue this discussion in the next post by looking at some examples.
By the way, you can learn more about me at www.aisielts.com