Teaching How Less Is More in Writing

Words allow us to build beautiful creations. Particularly in writing, which affords us more time for consideration, we put our thoughts together like a jeweler. The artist picks and chooses elements and strings them together. We do the same with words, hooking them together with grammatical structures. In the end, both the jeweler and the writer make a statement.

Beautiful in a flowery way

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, isn’t it? There are times when a flowery statement is appropriate. Making a toast at a wedding or giving a eulogy, for example, calls for a thoughtful choice of words and appreciation of the event’s significance.

In contrast, much of the writing that our students do requires brevity and clarity. Attempts at flowery statements in a report or email can come across as long-winded or overly formal. So how do we teach that less is more?

Beautiful in its simplicity

We can lead students through lessons that model concise writing. (See post with activity handout.) We can share resources that list common pitfalls and tips for avoiding them. (Watch video on being concise with prepositions.)

With my advanced students, I find being concise is a skill that must be practiced over time through regular writing assignments. Those who have gotten better at being concise have worked with me on multiple assignments — each text requiring at least one revision. It’s a matter of me heightening their awareness and helping them self-correct.

In a classroom setting, I might recommend posing a writing challenge at least once a week. Post a wordy statement on Monday and challenge students to revise it by Friday. Post the strongest revisions for all to see. If you’re using an online discussion board, add your comments to explain how the revision is an improvement. If you like this idea, here’s a list of wordy statements to get this weekly challenge started:

  1. One of the people I admire very much is a cousin of mine who runs her own business.
  2. It is very important for students to find enough time for their studies when they must prepare for a test.
  3. Of all the holidays I celebrate, the holiday that is the most special to me is New Year’s Eve.
  4. There are people who throw trash on the ground or drop things and do not pick them up, and when people do this it upsets me.
  5. It is the differences between cultures that make this world so very rich, and if we all learn to show appreciation for differences instead of showing fear or distrust of them, it would be a better world.

You could couple the task above with a related assignment. Require a short answer to each of the following questions:

  1. Name one person you admire.
  2. Give a useful study tip.
  3. What is your favorite holiday?
  4. Name a bad habit that annoys you.
  5. What would make the world a better place?


Photo credits:

Figure of Eight Wire Floral Necklace (September 2011) by Bojangle Beads.  Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Necklace@Bead Source (January 2011) by Karen. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.


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