The Danger of Overwriting

The most important stylistic advice I can offer is this: Don't try too hard. Don't try to impress your readers with your spectacular vocabulary. A paper that flows well will be more impressive. Write at a level where you are comfortable and concentrate on the ideas.

I can write fantastically complex sentences, in terms of both word choice and grammar. Such complexity is not helpful to my readers, however. Consider the following two examples:

A sentence, overly and perhaps overtly complexified, turgid with rarified language, gains the semblance of scholarship though it may indeed lack the capacity to communicate its import to any but a reader utterly dedicated in his attentions.

A complex sentence may seem scholarly but confuse casual readers.

The above examples both say essentially the same thing, but the simple sentence is much easier to read. Don't punish your audience for being interested in your ideas by trapping those ideas in a hideous snarl of language.

Simply stepping away from the thesaurus can help you avoid artificially complex writing. Rack your brain (and your friends' brains) for words before turning to your cold, unfeeling thesaurus. I don't actually have anything against the thesaurus. The word comes from the Greek for treasure chest, and I certainly appreciate the wealth of words within. The problem is that the thesaurus is not smart. A thesaurus will list resident, inhabitant, and denizen as essentially synonymous words — and they are, after a fashion. But each word has a nuance to it that makes it rarely interchangeable with the others. A thesaurus also lacks the ability to replace a single word with a more descriptive phrase.

If you wish to increase your vocabulary, do it the natural way — read more good books. You can absorb a great deal unconsciously just by reading recreationally. And learning new words is fun and easy when there's a thickening plot to motivate your progress through a book.

Use technical terms as appropriate

Although you should not add artificial complexity to your writing with arcane words, don't shy away from technical terms if you need them. Be sure to explain those terms, though. You can abbreviate after the first use if convenient, but only if you make the association between term and abbreviation clear.

Word Choice

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