Essay writing manual: what is economy of words?

There are many things that students learn about essay writing in high school. Some of those habits are good ones—they learn how to choose a thesis statement, how to outline a paper, and how to research and cite the sources they’ve found. Other habits picked up during grade school essay writing, however, are not so positive. One is the tendency to be unnecessarily verbose. When writing a college level essay it’s recommended to use an economy words. What does this mean? It means that you should use the fewest, and simplest, words you can which get your point across clearly.

One reason students don’t do this is that they have some misconceptions about what using flowery, wordy writing can accomplish. Let’s take a closer look at some of these misconceptions.

  1. “Fancy” writing makes the writer look smart.
  2. It’s true that having a large vocabulary can add to your writing. No one is disputing that. However, the goal of having a large vocabulary is not to use the “fanciest” word possible at any given time, it’s to use the best word possible. The best word is the one which most clearly and concisely gets your ideas across. Remember, the point of writing is communication—not to make the reader guess what you scored on the verbal portion of the SAT. In fact, unnecessarily complex vocabulary doesn’t make you look smart. It’s painfully obvious to professors when their students have been wearing out a thesaurus for no good reason.
  3. A fancier, more verbose writing style will help me reach my page count faster.
  4. This really isn’t necessarily true. While it seems as if writing a lot of fluff and using bigger words will help you reach the minimum page count faster, it often has the opposite effect. If, for example, you cram three or four ideas into a needlessly complicated sentence, you’ve probably used less space, yet only served to confuse your reader. When you state your ideas clearly, using economy of words, you often find you have the opportunity to actually expand upon your ideas or to examine them in greater depth.

While using fewer words and simpler ones may seem to fly in the face of everything you learned in high school, it will actually serve you quite well in your university writing projects. Remember that when writing, you want to communicate clearly—and that often means taking a simpler route.

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