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Writing Tip #10 - The thing is…

The Thing was a sci-fi movie first made in 1951 and remade a couple of times over the years. The monster was named “The Thing” because it was a previously unknown entity. Fortunately, when writing for college, we don’t have to face unknown monsters, unless, of course, we are explaining statistical analysis! “Thing” is a very versatile word, too versatile for academic writing.

Instead of using this word, eliminate it or use the word that the dictionary uses to define the particular subject about which you are writing. We have dictionaries so that professors don’t have to read sentences like: “The thing is that Pavlov’s theory was built upon by Skinner.”

Another example is: “Pavlov’s theory was the thing that Skinner studied to help form his theory of operant conditioning.”

In the first sentence, “thing” serves no useful purpose. The sentence can be written: “Skinner built on Pavlov’s theory.”

In the second sentence, the “thing” has already been named as the “theory”: “Skinner studied Pavlov’s theory. Through this study, Skinner formed his theory of operant conditioning.”

Be precise in your wording; (the thing is that) your grade will depend on it!

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Keep It Simple

Many freshmen college students try to use lots of words to say something quite simple. Don’t fall into that trap. Your professor will not be impressed. He or she will simply edit out your fine words. Instead, choose quality words that convey your message in the best way possible. Don’t overuse the Thesaurus! Find the word that is best for the idea and use it. Edgar Allen Poe wrote: “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” This doesn't mean terrify your instructors. Poe was right in that each word has its own reality. Find the right one. Your writing should be as tight as possible. Read over your paper and dissect the words. Can some words be removed? Can some words be exchanged for better ones? A concise, well-worded paper will impress your professor more than a wordy one.

Here is an example:

A: Let me tell you the reasons why I left you there. I had to throw out all of my papers and start over. Now I can't decide whether or not to stay.

B: Let me tell you why I left. I threw out all my papers. Now I can't decide whether to stay.

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