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最佳的英文寫作風格:簡潔

by Steve Wallace

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Posted on 2014 / 4 / 9,

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最佳的英文寫作風格:簡潔

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精簡寫作要領

 

在學術寫作中,最重要的是清楚表達觀點和報告結果。使用具體的詞彙和描述性片語,是其中一種能使論文變得明確清晰的方法。精簡文字內容(盡可能以最少的字數來寫作論文)則是另一個有效、全面且順暢的資訊傳達方法,從而獲得讀者、尤其是期刊審閱者的青睞。

 

英文是世界上詞彙量最大的語言,這項特點尤其有利於學術英文寫作,因為有成千上萬的詞彙可供選擇,作者可以很精確地表達具體的想法和觀點。但也因為英文的詞彙量過於龐大,很多作者常誤以為在表述的過程中應該盡可能使用大量的詞彙。

 

早期的寫作教育方式更加劇了這種迷思,因為教師在出作業時通常會規定最少應寫滿多少字,很多學生,包括以英文為母語的學生,都因此養成了在寫作中使用不必要的詞彙來填充頁面的習慣。對某些作者來說,這個習慣已經根深蒂固,以至於在學術寫作時需要用字精簡的概念對他們來說有悖常理。

 

相關文章推薦:如何策略性地撰寫論文草稿

 

然而,這樣囉嗦的寫作習慣只會造成內容不夠簡潔,學習精簡地寫作並實踐於學術寫作上方能帶來莫大的效益。

 

精簡寫作的第一步是先找出累贅和多餘的片語。

 

比方說,像「there are」和「there have been」這類片語在口語表達中雖很常見,但若用在正式寫作中卻會使句子變得意思含糊或累贅。比較以下兩個句子:

 

  • There are seven physicians in our department.
  • Seven physicians are in our department.

 

第二個句子雖然只比第一句少了一個詞,整體卻順暢很多。讀者不需要先看完一個籠統的日常片語才能讀到關鍵詞seven physicians,如果能以關鍵詞作為句子開頭便能增加清晰度和可讀性。通常,我們可以透過刪除一個或以上的贅詞來縮短句子的長度。比如以下的例子:

 

  • There are nine doctoral students who have committed themselves to attending the writing seminar next summer.

 

透過減少不必要的片語和使用較少的詞,我們可以達到保留原意、同時縮短句子的效果:

 

  • Nine doctoral students will attend the writing seminar next summer.

 

改寫後的句子比原來少了六個字,縮短了三分之一。第一個句子中,students who have committed themselves to attending 可以改寫為students who are committed to attending,甚至可以進一步縮短為僅包含三個字的片語students will attend,意思與原先的版本完全一樣。

 

相關文章推薦:如何在寫作中避免冗贅詞句

 

請注意,反身代名詞(如:themselves)經常被視為贅詞,如非必要,最好避免在學術寫作中使用。請看另一個例子:

 

  • The seminar will be conducted over a period of two weeks every day at twelve noon.

 

可以改寫為以下這個更精簡的句子:

 

  • The two-week seminar will begin every day at noon.

 

改寫後的句子少了七個字,短了將近一半。雖然在某些情況下,will be conducted 當中的每一個字都是必要的,但在這個例子中卻並非如此,因為句子的焦點是writing seminar 的時間,而不是它被conducted 的事實,這項事實已被隱含在內。寫作中必須時刻牢記句子的意圖,這樣才能找出多餘的詞和片語並將它們刪除。

 

此外,在有具體的時間單位時,使用period 或twelve noon 這樣的詞都是多餘、且明顯重複的,可以直接寫出明確的時間,如:12:00 PM。

 

許多英文學習和寫作相關的書籍或網站都有列出常用、但多餘的片語,在此提醒各大家應特別注意避免濫用片語,如:close proximity、revert back和surrounded on all sides。要寫出篇幅短但內容紮實的文章,必須了解該如何以精簡的方式寫出這些片語,前面所列舉的片語便可分別改為proximity、revert  和surrounded,並且學會判斷哪些there are 和there is 是不必要的。

 

額外相關閱讀推薦:

  1. 四大下錯論文標題的致命傷
  2. 在學術寫作裡敘述研究貢獻以及展現個人風格
  3. 撰寫學術論文最常見的錯誤
  4. 何謂重新規劃段落和翻轉架構?

 

English Version

Expressing ideas and reporting results clearly is paramount in academic writing. Using specific words and descriptive phrases is one approach to writing clearly. Being concise (i.e., using as few words as possible) is another effective way to convey information both comprehensibly and smoothly, thereby gaining favor from readers and, specifically, journal reviewers.

 

English has the widest vocabulary of any language in the world. This is of great benefit to academic writing, because the availability of hundreds of thousands of words enables expressing highly specific thoughts and ideas. Knowledge of this wide vocabulary, though, often makes writers of English believe that they should use as many words as possible when expressing themselves. This problem is exacerbated by the early stages of writing education, when teachers typically impose minimum word counts when assigning writing tasks.

 

Many students, even native English speakers, develop a habit of unnecessarily filling pages with words when completing academic assignments. This habit becomes so ingrained in some people that the idea of writing for conciseness in an academic context seems counter-intuitive. Nevertheless, learning the benefits of concise writing and applying them in practice can help reduce the nasty habit of writing verbosely.

 

Targeting wordy and unnecessary phrases is the first step toward writing concisely. Phrases such as “there are” and “there have been” are common in speech, but using them in formal writing can result in a vague or wordy statement. In comparing “There are seven physicians in our department” with “Seven physicians are in our department,” the latter statement is shorter by only one word, but it flows more freely because the reader does not have to wade through a general, everyday phrase before arriving at the first vital words, “seven physicians.” Beginning a statement with vital words enhances both clarity and readability.

 

Often, however, more than one word can be omitted to ensure that statements are free of the deadweight of unnecessary verbiage. Consider the following example:

 

  • There are nine doctoral students who have committed themselves to attending the writing seminar next summer.

 

By targeting unnecessary phrases and using fewer words, a writer can shorten this sentence without changing the meaning:

 

  • Nine doctoral students will attend the writing seminar next summer.

 

The revised statement contains six fewer words than does the original sentence, a 38% difference. The wording “students who have committed themselves to attending” could be revised to “students who are committed to attending;” however, taking an additional step in revision yields the three-word phrase “students will attend,” with the meaning of all three versions being precisely the same. (Note that reflexive pronouns such as “themselves” are often used superfluously. Avoid using them in academic writing unless necessary.)

 

Consider another example:

 

  • The seminar will be conducted over a period of two weeks every day at twelve noon.

 

This sentence can also be more concise:

 

  • The two-week seminar will begin every day at noon.

 

The revised sentence in this example is shorter by seven words, a 44% improvement. Although all of the words in the phrase “will be conducted” might be necessary in some contexts, in this instance, the phrase is nonessential because the focus of the statement involves the temporal aspects of the writing seminar, rather than its being “conducted,” which is clearly implied. (Always remember the purpose of a statement when expressing it; doing so facilitates pruning the deadwood of unnecessary words and phrases.)

 

Furthermore, using the word “period” in the context of a specifically quantified unit of time is often redundant, and “twelve noon” is an obvious redundancy that could be revised to the more technical “12:00 PM.”

 

Many books and Web sites focusing on English learning and writing offer lists of wordy phrases that are commonly used but should be avoided, such as “close proximity,” “revert back,” and “surrounded on all sides.”

 

Becoming familiar with such phrases and their optimal revisions (e.g., “proximity,” “revert,” and “surrounded”), in addition to recognizing when “there are” or “there is” is unnecessary, is essential for writing concisely.

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