Where is “Clear and Concise” in Academic Writing?

What’s important in writing? With the short answer to this question being “everything,” it can become difficult for learning writers to focus. In The Business Writer’s Handbook (2008), Gerald Alred, Charles Brusaw, and Walter Oliu write that it is important to keep writing to the point. “Conciseness, coherence and clarity characterize good writing. Make sure readers can follow your writing, and say only what is necessary to communicate your message” (xvii). Focusing on avoiding confusion and excess information makes sense, especially in professional settings.

However, the message students receive in college classes is usually contradictory to this one. Writing assignments are often analytical and must often be a certain number of pages in order for students to receive full credit. Professors expect details and complex thoughts. I have found myself with a good piece of writing that answers the prompt thoroughly, but is a page short of the length requirement on numerous occasions.  Sometimes I have felt as if I am only adding “fluff.”

Despite my negative feelings, there is something to be said for length requirements on school assignments. They help to ensure that students make an effort to write good papers and help to pull out ideas. I am sure that without these page minimums, more subpar essays would get submitted every day.

On the other hand, students are in school in order to eventually get jobs. In the real world, the only requirement for a document is fulfilling its purpose. Professionals do not care if a memo is three pages long or three lines short of three pages. As long as it includes the correct information, is understandable to the reader and is organized neatly, it is a good document.

Since I began taking classes for the Minor in Professional Writing at The Ohio State University, these aspects of my writing have become the focus. I have learned techniques for writing clearly and formatting effectively instead of having to worry about length requirements.  It has been refreshing to feel like I am learning how to right for my future job. In this way and others, classes that are a part of the Minor in Professional Writing prepare students for real world professional writing.

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