Professor Pedantic 教授的考究學問

The professor awaits your query on academic writing, though in all honesty, he doesn’t have a lot of time for you. He is a tenured full professor and working on yet another magnificent academic tome. Even so, he has graciously consented to entertain your question. Submit it and prepare to be edified.

QUESTION: I have been told I write well in two languages, but I also have been told that my English writing runs too long. Is there a guideline that helps academic writers write succinctly in a second language?

First of all, never devalue in your own mind your ability to communicate in two languages. Many people around the world would like to express themselves in a second language and wouldn’t care one whit if they “ran long” in doing so. Your interest in refining your writing in a second language is an indication of your professionalism and ambition as a writer. Languages, as you know, don’t always translate exactly in terms of number of characters, imagery, and, yes, number of words. So first of all I would suggest that word count not be a deciding factor in a translation.

The “length” standard in a translation or in an original language always is… however many words are needed to produce clarity. That might seem like an unhelpful guideline, but it is absolutely valid. A professor never will complain about wordiness if each word has value and helps express a thought. That might be two words or ten. The trick is to become proficient in choosing words so that excessive numbers of words are not employed. This is a skill that comes to a writer only one way: by writing and re-writing. Experience teaches a talented academic writer about succinctness.

The task is doubly difficult when a thought conceived in one language must be communicated in a second one. So I would suggest that little or no effort be made in a rough draft to write succinctly. The better course is to write an original draft freely, with little concern for numbers of words used to explore a thought or to express an argument. Second and, if necessary, third drafts are where tightening should occur. That is when you should look for extraneous language and other padding. After a while, lean writing will come naturally to you—in both languages.


Posted at 2013-01-25 10:34:41

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