After reading a few chapters in a textbook, I will often wonder why the author didn’t just explain the concepts in a few pages. I find long-winded academic writing to be painful, especially when crunched for time to finish assignments in grad school. I don’t ever want to be the perpetrator of this offense with my own writing, so I tend to write shorter papers.
However, the feedback on my papers often sounds like, “I think you could unpack this a bit more.” What seems objectively obvious to me, may just be a concept or a story with which I happen to be very familiar. I often fail to expound on it, in an attempt to avoid boring my audience. Assuming they would be skimming the lengthier elucidations in my paper, I overshoot the mark of conciseness and end up with a piece of writing that leaves the readers wanting.
Valuing conciseness and efficiency in academic writing is not a bad thing. However, the desire for my ideas to land solidly with my audience can serve to balance out tendencies towards being too concise. I’ve learned a lot about unpacking concepts from toddlers. They are always asking me “why,” waiting for an explanation, and then asking “why” again. Applying this technique to my writing process has served to increase the depth of my explanations and, subsequently, added length to my papers without sacrificing quality.
A professor I had during undergrad, Ormond Smythe, was asked by one of my classmates about page requirements for an assignment. He responded with something to the effect of, “Write until you’re finished. Fluffing for length is a terrible thing to do to a piece of writing.” I have always remembered this, and my goal is to improve at unpacking concepts without resorting to the use of filler and fluff.
Virtual Writing Center Peer Consultant