There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to say all the right verbs.
Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.
This week’s Study Dude further explores Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write With Clarity, Emphasis, & Style by Stephen Wilbers. He’ll delete 50% of your words and transform just as many nouns into verbs.
Be Wary of Wordiness
Wilbers prepared the perfect strategy to prevent wordiness: imagine paying $5 per word. With that strategy, the last sentence cost me $130. And did I really need the words “with that strategy”? Maybe.
I believe the fixation with tight sentences comes from Western media. Due to space constraints, journalists seek out the shortest way to say something. “Moreover” gets replaced with “and,” “however” gets replaced with “but,” and “although” with “yet.” But, that’s beside the point.
Best-selling business books also use shorter sentences. And sometimes a noun that conveys action such as “the chimes” removes the need for a verb, as in “The chimes overhead. The sand below.” (Wilbers gives examples of nouns that remove the need for verbs in non-academic writing.)
Wilbers found the formula for fixing wordiness:
– If a word isn’t necessary, get rid of it.
– Keep only the important words.
– Don’t use long-winded phrases like “the fact that” or “in spite of the fact that.” Instead, use “because” or “although.”
– Remove anything that doesn’t add to your meaning or that doesn’t provide rhythm.
– When referencing time, get rid of wordiness. Instead of saying “during the time it takes” or “in this day and age,” just say, “when” or “today.”
I first read about punchy verbs in Helen Sword’s book Stylish Academic Writing. I know. I know. But, most books on writing repeat what Helen says. She says to show-off vibrant verbs wherever you can. For instance, take a multisyllabic verb like appreciate and switch it to something short and lively like cherish.
And Helen advised against zombie nouns, which are those words that end with suffixes like “ize,” “ation,” “ity.” Take those nouns and convert them into zesty verbs. For instance, realization can convert to realize or, better yet, grasp.
Wilbers offers some advice on how to make your verbs pulse:
– You can use verb inspired nouns, such as “the howl” or “the cry” to liven up your writing.
– Instead of using vague words like “higher floor,” use more precise terms, such as “the 103rd floor.”
– Try to take your tame verbs and replace them with vivid ones. For instance, “the flame’s shadow appeared on the wall,” say, “the flame’s shadow licked out and flickered on the wall.”
– Don’t sound pompous with multisyllabic nouns that could be reframed as verbs. Instead of saying, “He entered the contemplation of life,” just say, “He contemplated life.”
– You can turn some nouns into verbs. For instance, you can be pigeon-holed, where pigeon-hole, a noun, becomes a verb. [Wilbers suggest converting nouns into verbs, creating verbs that don’t appear in the dictionary. His approach might work well with fiction-writing, but for academic writing, ask your professor for permission first.]
– When converting your nouns into verbs, look at the object you are writing about, and find some smaller part of it that you can turn into a verb. For instance, you could take a fish and reduce it to its gills; thus, you come up with the sentence, “The salmon gilled its way to the surface.”
– When you have a lot of stuffy nouns stacked together, take one near the end, convert it to a verb (or adjectives) if possible, and rewrite the sentence. For instance, “the human right’s periodical literature campaign institution” could be turned into the “the institution’s campaign for human rights through periodical literature.”
Cuddle Up! Verbs and Subjects
Prefer clarity over confusion in your writing. So, cuddle your verbs up against their subjects. And if you write a long string of clauses, first snuggle your subject and verb at the start of the sentence and then follow with all the but’s, that’s, or which’s you want.
Wilbers gives a taste of what it means to keep your verb and subject close together:
– If you distance your noun from your verb, your sentence will become harder to understand.
– Try not to use the passive verb “is” when you separate your noun from your verb.
– Put your verb as close to your subject as you can without losing rhythm or meaning.
– Sometimes, when you put a great distance between your subject and verb, your sentence gains suspense. However, you normally want to keep your subject and verb together.
So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.
Wilbers, Stephen. (2014). Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, & Style. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.