Extremes of Understatement

Some students writers do not write in order to say something. They take a more defensive approach, aiming to write nothing that can be criticized, either for its content or its form. The mantra they adopt is “Use short words. Say obvious things. Keep meaning simple.” What could be safer, I imagine them thinking.

Yet this always backfires with writing that isn’t worth reading, writing that proclaims what we all already know and probably have known for years on end. The short thoughts in simple words leave the evaluator combing the short turf for any bit of fluff they can give credit to. That is the best the student can hope for.

The worst is that by trying to not say anything, such writers overlook what their words – with a mind of their own, it seems — go off and say on their own. Like this case of extreme understatement:

“Islamic art and Western art are to arts that have been around for years.”

Thus opens a paper that makes a reader wish there weren’t another 800 words to follow.

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