“Your work is a soporific.” [sop-o-rif-ic noun. A drug or other agent that induces sleep.]
This is the response I received when, after three years of coursework and five additional years of writing—while having two children and teaching English—I finally submitted my completed dissertation to my advisor.
My argument, research, and support all seemed to be acceptable. But it put him to sleep. So I asked another member of my committee what to do.
Dr. Marovitz—Sandy—responded by sending me a few sentences from my dissertation with penciled in corrections, and it was a revelation.
My excuse for having written this wordy, redundant piece of work is that I was immersed in and writing about Henry James, whose work I loved, and Henry James’ style was complex and, perhaps, wordy. He often wrote sentences longer than a page. I had studied Cicero in high school, too, and learned grammar from Latin.
In his corrections, Dr. Marovitz essentially eliminated redundancy and achieved conciseness through sentence-combining.
We hadn’t begun teaching sentence-combining as a strategy, yet I still was embarrassed to think I had been teaching English composition for eleven years and did not realize that my own style required correcting.
I’ve been conscious of the sin of wordiness ever since that day in 1980. Lately, my son Aaron has been correcting my English when he feels I have been guilty of vague pronoun reference. This may be a result of too much conciseness or just carelessness.
Many more times in life since 1980, I have been exposed—to myself, at least—for not knowing something I could have been expected to know. The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know.
Here are a few sentences my advisor would have considered to be a soporific, along with ways of fixing them:
“I have reviewed and relived in my mind junctures or turning points that occurred during my childhood years that had a significant bearing on my way of looking at life and the world today. In doing so, I have realized that it has not always been a person or a place, but more often it has been various events I interacted with or seen in nature, behaving as sensory filters, that have most clarified and informed my concept of reality.”
The original, from the Prologue of Growing up Floridian by Michael Arthur Taylor:
“As I mentally relived childhood junctures that influenced my world view, I realized that, rather than a person or a place, interactions in nature were sensory filters that most clarified my concept of reality.”
For some purposes, an even more concise version could be used, such as, “The times in my childhood that influenced my world view and my concept of reality involved interactions in nature rather than people or places.”