The importance of practising clear, concise communication.
The next time you’re sitting in a lecture, try something: take note of every time your professor or a student uses a useless word or phrase. How many times do they preface a sentence with filler words such as ‘obviously,’ ‘basically,’ or ‘of course’? Or, how many times do they spice up an otherwise unscholarly-sounding sentence with phrases like ‘the way in which,’ ‘it could be argued that,’ or ‘I almost feel like’?
“Of course, it could be argued that we’re talking about the ways in which people use language.”
That sure sounds impressive, but, put more succinctly, we can just as easily say:
“We’re talking about how people use language.”
If these words and phrases have become naturalized in your vocabulary, it might seem hard to see the point of cutting them out. Everybody talks differently, right? Everybody has their own unique writing style, don’t they? Of course they do, but certain words and phrases add little to nothing to your work besides fluff and pretension.
Reasons for using filler words differ from person to person. Sometimes they’re used in a paper simply to get a few steps closer to a word count. In speech, they can fill the silence that often accompanies deep thought. Thinking more cynically, though, filler words are often used affectedly in an attempt to garnish ordinary sentences with an academic tone. The phrase “of course,” when used in a lecture or paper, suggests to an audience that the information being presented should already be known, or that it is common sense. Maybe it is common sense to the speaker, but it would be wrong to assume it is common sense to a class full of students who are there to learn. Starting a sentence with the word “obviously” has a similar effect; if it so obvious, then why say it? Claiming that a piece of information is obvious then stating it anyway is not only insulting to the audience, but it comes off as pretentious.
“Certain words and phrases add little to nothing to your work besides fluff and pretension.”
Since you’ve started reading this I’m sure you have come across at least one irksome word or turn of phrase that you believe should be cut out. (If so, you’re doing something right—copy the phrase and email it to me for bonus points.) The fact that our eyes seem to naturally pick out weaknesses in speech and text is indicative of our desire—students and professors alike—to receive clear, concise communication. And really that’s what this is all about. If you can perfectly translate the thoughts in your brain into text on a page, or into words in your mouth, then your work is done. But it’s likely that you’re not there yet. Nobody is ever really at that point, but by fostering a greater consciousness of our choice of words, we can get closer to it every day.