In order to maximize the power within your day-to-day written communications, you should always and continually be on the lookout for words which you have written which may be excessive or unneeded. Or, to put that another way:
To write powerfully, eliminate unnecessary words.
I’m always amazed by how many words most folks waste. It’s a wonder we haven’t run out. I wrote a while back on eliminating some of those wasted words, mostly foolish buzzwords. (By the way, if you haven’t seen it, you really need to check out BuzzWhack, a great source for words to avoid.) But there’s much more that can be done.
To begin, forget about what sounds important, or at least get over the notion that more words pack a bigger punch than fewer words. Lots of academics have a hard time with this, and if you’ve read many academic journals (you poor soul), you’ve seen plenty of examples of the kind of language arms race I’m talking about. Back in the mid 90s, the magazine Philosophy and Literature ran a bad writing contest. Here’s the prize winning sentence — yes, that’s right, it’s a single sentence — from 1998.
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
Got that? I didn’t think so.
It’s worth noting that the professor who penned this masterpiece is no dummy. She is, in fact, a Guggenheim Fellowship winner and renowned scholar at UC Berkeley. It’s also worth noting that this is an extreme example.
But for most of us non-Guggenheim Fellowship folks who are not particularly renowned (in Berkeley or elsewhere), we ought to strive for brevity, not length. We ought to use accessible language, not jargon. And we really have to get over this idea that if we can only make it sound important or complex or just flat-out smart, then it will be powerful. Usually, it’s the opposite that’s true.
So, in the end, what I would say to you about learning to write powerfully is that you would be well-advised to take matters into your own hands and, wherever possible, eliminate any extraneous or unnecessary words or phrases that you may have used in your writing.