Writing clearly, concisely and precisely

At university it is important to convey your meaning with absolute clarity, in a way that will be understood by any reader, regardless of whether or not English is their first language. This tutorial will explore how to write clearly, concisely and precisely. It will also look at how your choice of tense impacts on your meaning.

This tutorial will cover:

As you go through, there will be places where you can click to reveal more information as well as undertake activities to check your understanding.

How to write clearly

At university it is important that your readers - in particular your markers - can easily understand your meaning and follow your line of reasoning. Click on the headings below for some helpful hints.

Activity

Read the following pairs of text. Click on the clearer text of each pair.

Activity

Try applying the strategies presented in this module to your own writing. Re-read a current or past assignment and highlight the parts that could be rewritten more clearly.

How to write concisely

Academic writing should be concise; that is, you should use no more words than necessary to convey your meaning clearly. In some cases, the more words you include, the harder it is for the reader to extract your meaning. Most of us use far more words than necessary in a first draft; achieving concise writing usually requires several revisions.

While this can take time, it will give your writing more impact - and also help you stay within the assignment word limit. Click on the headings below to learn more.

Activity

On each screen you will see two versions of the same text. For each pair, select the version that is written more concisely.

Activity

Try applying the techniques presented in this module to your own writing. Re-read a current or past assignment and highlight the sentences, words or phrases that could be changed or removed to make your writing more concise. Be careful though not to remove phrases that contribute to meaning.

How to write precisely

In academic writing it is essential that your readers - and markers - understand exactly what you mean, so you need to make sure that what you write is accurate and unambiguous. This is not as simple as it sounds; writing precisely requires considerable thought and careful editing.

Click on the headings below for more information.

Activity

Read the following sentences. How would you write each one to be more precise? Think about it before you click 'Turn' for the solution.

Activity

Try applying the techniques presented in this module to your own writing. Re-read a current or past assignment and highlight the sentences, words or phrases that could be rewritten more precisely. Be careful though not to change the meaning.


Tip

It is difficult to be sure your writing is clear, concise and precise. This is because your mind remembers and understands what you meant to say, so it will fill in any gaps or correct mistakes as you read. There are two ways to get around this.

  1. Wait a few days before re-reading your work. This will give your mind time to forget what you meant. It can also be useful to change the way the writing looks. For example, change the font style, size or colour before reading.
  2. Share your work with your family or friends. If they understand what you mean without having to ask you to explain anything, especially if they are not familiar with the topic, then your writing is probably clear.