Brevity and Clarity

Brief and Clear is Best

The trouble with word counts is that they count words, not ideas.

The best papers convey the most information, the most meaning, in the fewest words. Readers of brief, clear claims subconsciously feel they’re being adequately rewarded for the time they spend reading. Wordiness, on the other hand, wastes readers time. They respond by finding something better to do.

This paragraph was written to achieve a Word Count:

For my research essay I will be examining how one state has a higher murder rate compared to the neighboring state, which has considerably less strict gun laws. Throughout the past few years some states have become more stern in terms of gun laws in an attempt to lower the murder rate. Other states have decided to keep their laws the same because that’s what they deem traditional, proper, and appropriate for their populations. Statistics provided by reveal that the murder rate of Chicago, Illinois—compared to that of St. Louis, Missouri—is much higher, due to the fact that Chicago, Illinois was at the top of the list and St. Louis, Missouri was two spots away from the bottom of the list. Based on this evidence, it leaves people to wonder, if states enforce strict gun laws, why is their murder rate so much higher than states that have gun laws that are not as strict?

Rendered with brevity and clarity:

According to statistics provided by, Chicago, Illinois, has a much higher murder rate than Saint Louis, Missouri, despite tougher gun laws in Illinois.

Written to achieve a Word Count:

During the process of my research, I was able to discover that in Chicago, Illinois, most gun-related crimes have been committed with guns that originated from outside that city or state. This means people are bringing guns from other states into Illinois to commit crimes. Another report showed that the gun laws of Missouri, a neighbor state to Illinois, could be argued to be among the weakest gun laws. This fact was discovered in the article in the section where the author stated how the regulations in Missouri are similar to other midwest and deep south states, categorizing them all as lenient. However, even though Missouri’s gun laws are lenient, it still has a lower murder rate in comparison to states with strict gun laws. The noticeable difference between the two states is that within Missouri, the gun laws have remained the same due to their traditional views of states’ rights and the 2nd Amendment. Missouri’s traditional views of allowing people to easily obtain guns is likely to be the source of one of Illinois’ problems. The ongoing problem in Illinois is that most gun-related crimes are committed with guns that originate outside of that state. If Illinois were to weaken its gun laws, people would not need to bring guns into Illinois from outside the state.

Rendered with brevity and clarity:

My research indicates that guns from states that border Illinois, such as Missouri, are used in most Chicago gun crimes. If Missouri’s gun laws—which have always been lenient compared to Illinois’ laws—were stricter, it might be easier to control the murder rate in Chicago.

Once the needless language is removed, the bones of the argument show through, making it easy to evaluate its strength and structure.

With all its extra language, the red paragraph made just two claims, that Missouri’s gun laws are looser, and that Missouri guns are used in Chicago gun crimes. Instead of more language, the new green paragraph still needs facts to demonstrate:
1) differences between the actual gun laws
2) that the out-of-state guns do in fact come from Missouri
3) that the murder rates in both cities are actually related to gun laws
4) that similar examples exist in other strict states that neighbor lenient states

Those questions and others are obscured until claims are laid out simply and clearly.

Don’t Describe; Purposefully Summarize

Describes the content without summarizing the content:

Content Described: This article goes into depth about Chicago’s gun laws, comparing them with others to determine if they are in fact the strictest gun laws or not. Throughout the article, it uses quotes from people such as the Chicago police officers who investigate gun crimes and Donald Trump. Later in the article, it uses a table and pictures of shootings that have occurred in Chicago since 2010 to help support the authors’ claims.

Let’s revise this paragraph with some actual summary, using invented claims:

Meaning Revealed: This article compares Chicago’s strict guns laws with the looser gun laws of its neighbor, Missouri. Throughout, law enforcement personnel provide evidence that guns seized in homicides originated in Missouri. It provides a table that demonstrates the higher number of guns used in homicides that originated from Missouri than those registered in Chicago.

Describes the content without summarizing the content

Content Described: This article reveals each fact in terms of gun laws in Missouri. This article informs the reader about the different gun laws Missouri has within its state borders and how some of the gun laws in Missouri are similar to other mid west and deep south states.

Let’s revise this paragraph with some actual summary, using invented claims:

Meaning Revealed: This article compares the weaker gun laws of Missouri to similarly weak gun laws in states in the Midwest and the deep South, all of which are less restrictive than those of Chicago and the state of Illinois. 

Content Described
The study examines the behaviors in Professor Hodges’ composition class and compares it to the behaviors of every other writing course at the college. It puts all the data into a useful chart that makes it easy to compare both student behaviors and the professor’s own behavior so that readers will be able to see how they acted in several categories including tardiness.

The study concludes that while Professor Hodges is always early to class compared to other professors in the Writing Arts department, his students are more often late.

Proofs that Don’t Prove

High school essay writers can grab any statistic that seems to support a thesis and use it as proof despite obvious logic flaws that prevent it from even supporting their conclusions. College writers are held to a higher standard.

Logic must meet the facts to force a logical conclusion.

Example 1

The material at the website you cited as a source does not prove what you say it proves. It quotes “use” statistics, but makes its comparisons to “drug offenses.”

  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.

Do you see the problem in the highlights, MyStudent? I want you to be able to prove your thesis if it’s true, but this doesn’t do it. If African Americans represent 12% of the population USING, but 59% of those incarcerated for USING, you have a case. Otherwise . . . you need a better statistic.

This example is part of the larger problem you’ll have . . . one I hope you will solve. This will illustrate:

Males make up 49% of the US population, yet they account for 98% of inmates convicted of rape.

You would laugh me out of the debate if I tried to present that as evidence of the justice system’s prejudice against men. Imagine the same standard of evidence applied to your argument.

Suppose, to be more honest about it, I cited this statistical comparison:

Males make up 98% of rapists, yet they account for 98% of inmates convicted of rape.

You’d laugh again, but this time because the example supports the opposite of my claim that the justice system discriminates against men. Of course it convicts actual rapists of rape instead of seeking a “fair” distribution of convictions across the genders.

Your challenge: How do you demonstrate that the percentage of African-Americans arrested and convicted of drug offenses is wildly disproportionate to the percentage of African-Americans committing drug offenses?

In-Class Exercise

In the Reply field below, respond with a thoughtful comment about the value of these techniques, which one you find most useful, and how it will help you revise your essays.