So today I was writing a conference proposal. It asked for a 150-word abstract and a 150-word “Background and Description of Work.” It’s surprisingly difficult to write 150 words about something, especially if you have a bad habit like I do of needless verbosity. Let me illustrate with an excerpt explaining some of my quant data sources:
I collected data on student knowledge, including the Calculus Concept Inventory administered pre- and post-term, the Calculus Concept Readiness test administered pre-term, and student scores on the common final exam.
This isn’t terrible; it’s a fairly succinct and complete description of the data I’m using to assess conceptual and procedural understanding of calculus. However, it’s sitting at 30 words, and when you only have 150 to play with and you need to say a bunch of other things within that 150-word limit, you really need to be stingy.
So, I tightened this up a little:
- “data on student knowledge” -> “achievement data” – that word “on” is not really doing much for me.
- “the Calculus Concept Inventory administered pre- and post-term” -> “the pre- and post-term Calculus Concept Inventory” – Not only do I not really need that word “administered” in there, I think this reads a little smoother.
- “student scores on the common final exam” -> “final exam scores” – This is the big one. I lose a little bit of descriptive power here, but not enough to justify the extra four words. In particular, of course it’s students taking the final exam; I don’t need to say that these are “student scores.”
The end result:
I collected achievement data, including the pre- and post-term Calculus Concept Inventory, the post-term Calculus Concept Readiness test, and final exam scores.
This is 23 words that I think read much better and don’t lose much, if any, precision.
Pascal, Locke, Franklin, and others had it right: it’s a lot of effort to write succinctly.