Saturday, 12 March 2011

Short sentences

Your writing style is cryptic
advised my supervisor.

My fellow PhD student and Open University blogger, Minh, has blogged on writing for his PhD here and here, for instance. Now, Minh, like me, has an IT background and, like me, has a tendency to produce short sentences on the grounds that short is better, but his supervisor, like mine, has asked for longer sentences and dislikes the clipped style we go for. Of course, we follow our supervisor's advice, but wonder and grumble.

However, I've begun to be persuaded of the value of longer sentences. I like a short sentence. But that very shortness raises questions in my readers' mind, for instance:
  • Why do I like short sentences?
  • Under what circumstances?
  • And what do I mean by short?
My supervisor says to make it easy on any reader by answering those questions, and I can't answer them if I write short sentences. I could of course write a series of short sentences:
I like short sentences.
Short sentences give one idea.
One idea is enough to cope with.
But the problem with that approach is that it sounds dogmatic and unreflective, which is not what I want my reader to think, especially my examiner. It's a style that doesn't explain enough, focused (which I like) on one purpose, but suggests the writer is not considering alternative points of view, and considering alternative points of view is something that a PhD student must do and demonstrate the doing thereof.

So I'm convinced about the PhD needing a writing style that uses longer sentences, and my supervisor's comment:
"Your writing style is cryptic"
is now self-evident!

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