Economy of Expression

Posted November 9, 2017

A key tenet of scholarly and academic writing in social science research is clear communication. In particular, writing a dissertation should be as clear and concise as possible. Your dissertation is not a literary masterpiece, but rather an academic research report. Therefore, it is best to avoid flowery language, wordiness, opinionated phrases, and redundancy. The result should be that a reader of any discipline can pick up your dissertation and read through it with ease to identify the problem, questions, results, and conclusions.

When you begin writing and revising your dissertation, remember to use economy of expression—only include those words necessary to clearly make your point. APA 6 explains, “The author who is frugal with words not only writes a more readable manuscript but also increases the chances that the manuscript will be accepted for publication” (p. 67). It is best to express a clear subject-verb agreement and keep sentence length manageable for readers.

For those of you who have read the popular American novel, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, or have seen the movie adaptation by director Phillip Noyce, economy of expression closely relates to the idea of “precision of language.” Throughout the novel, community members are not to express emotionally-charged language (pain, difference, etc.), but rather be clear and precise with their word choice. This is exactly how academic researchers should approach their writing—black and white, free of color or bias, and overtly direct.

Redundancy: Avoiding redundant language requires eliminating emphatic expressions or repeated text. For example, there is no need to repeat the research questions in every chapter—unless your University or committee absolutely requires so. The researcher should assume that the reader can look back in Chapters 1 or 3 and review the research questions, if needed. Repeating the same text does not add new findings to your study and may weigh-down the reader’s understanding of your study. In addition, a writer should never be copying and pasting (i.e., repeating) full paragraphs of text (see APA6, Section 6.02 on self-plagiarism). The following is a list of common redundant phrases found in dissertations:

they were both alike

a total of 68 participants

previously found

small in size

period of time

the reason is because

Wordiness: Wordiness hinders comprehension of the writing, because the reader is forced to decode the tangled message. Avoid phrases such as in fact, due to the fact, in order to, for the purpose of, it is important to note, importantly, interestingly, and it is essential.

(Incorrect) It is important to note that in order to determine the results, the researcher must test the hypotheses.

(Correct) To determine the results, the researcher must test the hypotheses.

Length: Last, the length of sentences and paragraphs should be reasonable for the reader to digest. Although you want to avoid short, choppy sentences without flow, it is equally essential to refrain from long-winded sentences, or paragraphs that run the full length of a page. If you find many of your sentences are running the length of more than three lines, consider condensing the information or splitting the sentence into two. If paragraphs span the full length of a page, locate a logical break where you can split the paragraph into two (Do note that paragraphs should contain at least 3 sentences).

In all, when writing your dissertation or scholarly research at the doctoral level, make sure to always keep communication clear, employ economy of expression, and reduce redundant or unnecessary wording when possible.

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