Style: Clarity and Concision
Readers of poetry, journalism, or FITREPs all have different expectations of how the document they are reading should be written. In academic writing, while there is room to be creative, your style choices should above all else support your document’s clarity and precision.
Even when your sentences are technically grammatical, issues of style may still prevent your text from being clear and straightforward. Efforts to improve writing style are usually focused on word choice, sentence length, and sentence complexity. Common style issues in academic papers include the overuse of jargon or imprecise terms, run-on sentences, wordiness due to clumps of prepositional phrases, patterns of passive voice, and weak verbs.
Certain elements of style are governed by style guides. The citation style you use—whether APA, Chicago, or another—is detailed in a style guide that also comments on preferred language usage. NPS has its own style guide, which identifies institutional rules about spelling variations and punctuation. Additional style guidance can be found on the TPO’s webpage.
Your discipline or department may also influence your style choices: style conventions in the sciences may be a bit different from those in business, for example. However, there are often more similarities than differences in well-written papers from across academia: their style reflects a reader-centered approach and a commitment to clarity.
Some of your assigned readings may be frustratingly unclear and difficult to read, and this might make you doubt (or appreciate!) the value of being clear and precise in academic communication. Just remember that not every brilliant scholar is a great writer—but you have a chance to be both!
For guidance on how to achieve clarity and concision, see the resources linked below and in the navigation menu. For a more interactive experience, join us in our clarity-centric workshops, "Mastery Series: Clarity and Concision" and the two-part "Building Better Sentences." Workshops are offered in the first four weeks of each quarter; you can sign up during workshop season through WCOnline. See the whole workshop list here.
Clarity and Concision Links
- NPS-specific webpage: "NPS Style Guide," NPS Public Affairs Office
- Handbook: "U.S. Navy Style Guide," U.S. Navy
- Handout: "Style," University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Writing Center
- Handout: "Word Choice," University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Writing Center
- Handout: "Writing Style Guide," Ned Dimitrov
- Video (9:28): "How to Write Better: Writing Tips on Voice, Tense, Perspective, Cliché and Wordiness,” Justine Tal Goldberg, WriteByNight
- NPS-specific handbook: Writing Style & English Usage, NPS Acquisition Research Program
- Book: Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, 4th ed., Joseph Williams, Longman