Improving the concision of your writing means removing all words and information that do not help persuade the reader that your argument is valid. One way to think about this unnecessary verbiage is as “metadiscourse”.
In philosophy, the term “metadiscourse” denotes a “discussion about a discussion” rather than a simple discussion of a given topic. Similarly, in writing, metadiscourse is language which refers to the act or context of the writing itself.
Some metadiscourse is necessary in all writing; when used sparingly, it can help to signal the writer’s intentions (e.g., “To sum up, …” or “For example, …”) or level of certainty (e.g., “Perhaps …” or “To some extent, …”), or direct/orient a reader (e.g., “In what follows, …” or “Secondly, …”), etc.
Nevertheless, when overused, metadiscursive elements can become intrusive, make the writing seem overly or unnecessarily self-conscious, and bloat your writing with unnecessary words and details.
For the sake of concision, please try to limit or avoid the following kinds of metadiscourse in your academic writing:
- text-related (i.e., about parts of the text you are writing)
- source-related (i.e., about authors, titles, and parts of sources)
- writer-related (i.e., about your thought processes and feelings)
Below are some examples of metadiscourse problems and corrections:
Inefficient: In the first subsection of the essay, I will argue that metadiscourse is inefficient, then, in the next paragraph, I will continue by claiming that metadiscourse is vague for several reasons, then, in the final part, I will prove that metadiscourse is redundant, supporting all of my arguments with quotations and paraphrases from academic sources, before moving on to my conclusion in which I will express my main idea again in several sentences.Correction: In what follows, I will argue that metadiscourse is inefficient, vague, and redundant because …
Inefficient: In his text which is titled The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, author and linguistics professor at Harvard University Steven Pinker has a sentence in the glossary section of the book which defines metadiscourse as “words which refer to the current discourse” (2014, 314).Correction: Pinker (2014) defines metadiscourse as “words which refer to the current discourse” (314), such as …
Inefficient: If we consider Pinker’s argument that repetition of ideas, while necessary in oratory, is unnecessary in written text (2014, 39), at first it might seem persuasive if we consider it without thinking deeply, but if we read it again and analyze it scientifically and in the light of the latest research in the topic area by experts, I strongly believe that we will start to see that it has some unfortunate problems when we attempt to generalize it.Correction: Pinker’s argument that repetition of ideas, while necessary in oratory, is unnecessary in written text (2014, 39) is an overgeneralization because …
N.b., Note that, in all the above examples, the concise version enables the writer to focus on giving further arguments, reasons, explanations, and examples.
- Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute. 2015. “What is Metadiscourse?” Accessed 27 February 2017. http://peabody.jhu.edu/conservatory/humanities/writing/metadiscourse.html
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Metadiscourse.” Accessed February 27, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metadiscourse
- Pinker, Steven. 2014. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. London: Allen Lane.