Style Tips for Concise Critical Writing

Style Tips for Concise Critical Writing

Over the years, we’ve compiled a list of useful stylistic tips for writing clear and concise critical essays. Here are a few of the more important:

  • Avoid unnecessary words and phrases used for stylistic punctuation: Indeed; quite; alas.
  • Strictly avoid use of the first person in either its singular or plural form.
  • Avoid the phrase “one of the most”; it is one of the most overused phrases we see. Make  a precise, meaningful statement: “Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet to English literature” as opposed to “Thomas Wyatt is one of the most important English poets.”
  • Avoid “a number of” unless you know the number.
  • Use semicolons sparingly.
  • Avoid critical jargon, unless the topic demands it. Avoid such terms and phrases as “oeuvre,” “valorize,” “milieu,” “through the lens of,” and odd constructions using the concept of space, such as “making rhetorical space for her feminism,” except in quotations from others.
  • Limit the use of passive voice.
  • Avoid making a point by stating what was not the case. Use direct statements.
  • Avoid describing plots as “revolving around” something.
  • Avoid imprecise use of “meanwhile” and similar conjunctions, as in “Concrete poetry draws attention to the graphic or physical details of text, including typographic and orthographic features such as typeface and spelling.  Sound poetry, meanwhile, relies on a body and vocal chords to make it come to life.”
  • Do not end a sentence and begin the next with the same word or phrase.
  • Avoid the phrase “many critics” unless there really were many.
  • Avoid anthropomorphizing inanimate objects, as in “These years witnessed . . . ”
  • Use parenthetical statements sparingly: normally commas or dashes are preferable to parentheses to express a subordinate statement.
  • Avoid throwaway modifiers, as in “quite distinct”, and “very important.”
  • Unique refers to singularity; there are no degrees of uniqueness and such designations as “unique subject matter” are unusual.
  • Avoid the use of would to express a future occurrence: “They had five children” instead of “They would have five children.” “Stephen King became a bestselling author” instead of “Stephen King would become a bestselling author.”

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