Clarity and coherence One of the requirements of every PhD thesis is that you produce a text containing ideas that are communicated to your readers in a clear and coherent way. At the same time, you are expected to write in a suitable academic style, determined partly by the discourse of your particular disciplinary area and partly by a perception of a more general academic style. The problem faced by all thesis writers is that clarity, coherence and style can easily enter into conflict with each other, with style acting as an obstacle to clarity. If taken to excess, the result can be texts that consist of turgid, impenetrable prose or pompous rhetoric. A further complication is that certain texts might be rejected by some readers on these grounds, while other readers may be prepared to accept a loss of clarity in favour of adherence to stylistic conventions. When PhD supervisors in the UK talk about clarity and style, they may refer you to an essay written by George Orwell in 1946 (Politics and the English Language), in which he identifies what he considers to be the ‘mental vices’ that affect the clarity and coherence of writing: ‘dying metaphors’ (used without understanding their meaning), ‘verbal false limbs’ (phrases with redundant elements), ’pretentious diction’ and ‘meaningless words’. Orwell’s suggested rules for clear writing come at the end of his essay and act as a warning against overuse of metaphors and imagery, excessively complex words, redundant words and sentences, technical expressions that have an everyday equivalent and the use of the passive rather than the active voice.
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- Writing Clearly, Concisely and Coherently
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