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Any guidelines as to what's a sufficient level of "being succinct" research papers?

This confuses me, because it seems to me like "being succinct" is sold as an ideal ("a very desirable thing to have"). But when trying to figure out "well how to produce succinct text", then I find as if there are no general guidelines for it and that it could well be "very subjective" thing.

Based on subjective experience on reading "experienced papers" I would also argue that "being succinct" may come at the cost of not having said information that would have been necessary. I.e. leaving out important information at the cost of appearing "nicer in text".

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  • Faulkner and Joyce are not succinct. Hemingway is.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 16, 2021 at 13:42

3 Answers 3

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Here is a guideline: Follow the six rules near the end of this essay by George Orwell https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/politics-and-the-english-language/

especially

  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word [or phrase] out, always cut it out.

In your question, you could cut the start of the 2nd paragraph up to "like" and the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph. I know it is not supposed to be academic writing, but it is just an example of how to be succinct.

But you are right that it is subjective. It depends on the field as well.

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  • This essay is fabulous. Thank you.
    – Stef
    Nov 17, 2021 at 11:06
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While it is notoriously hard to figure out what to cover and what to omit, there is a handful of purely linguistic tricks. toby544 provided a good example of those, and there are plenty more to be found (another set of key words you might find useful: informative writing).

I will focus on something else instead. The mindset. The mind in turmoil struggles to communicate thoughts clearly. I find confidence and clarity absolutely essential for writing. There is no need to omit the thought process entirely while sticking to the subject matter like you suggest in the comments.

Text becomes hard to read because of not-so-necessary fluff: overuse of passive voice, waltzing around conclusions with "probably" and "might indicate", dealing almost exclusively in hypotheticals. These are also the hallmarks of a large part of academic writing: dropping careful formulations is also no good, after all. So how to find that balance, then?

By grouping all the "maybe, maybe not" and "this is not conclusive" bits together. Do not let your - and your reader's - mind wander around too much during a single explanation. You might stop at some key concepts and briefly address possible concerns if it doesn't require going too much in-depth. If it does, find a simpler explanation.

Finally, it is impossible to cover everything required to understand the subject in a single body of text. Spend a lot of time considering the scope: who is your audience? What do and don't they know? This is a lot of work, and the answers can't be given in general. Some examples of questions can.

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Being succint is not subjective. Being succint is actually the most objective way to write something because you need to focus on what your audience knows and doesn't know.

A short example: if you are demonstrating a theorem and you perform an addition, you need to specify that the operation is commutative to K12 students, probably not to graduate in mathemathics.

That's why there are great papers, interesting papers, boring papers: some papers flow with you and your knowledge, some rely on your knowledge to miss the gaps, some get you annoyed spending long time in obvious things.

Given the variety of the background and of the knowledge of the readership, professionals in a given field will not unanimously agree on which one is a great paper, but it is quite likely that if 50%-60% of the specialists think a paper is a great paper, then the paper is deemed to be a great paper, even if 20% of the readers maybe think "there are too many missing information in this paper".

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  • Yes I initially thought that in order to minimize subjective preferences one ought to imprint as little one's own subjective taste as possible. But OTOH after viewing text in such style I found that "being succinct" carries the problem of being "too plain to be replicable". I.e. by reducing information one also loses tacit knowledge etc. which may make it very difficult to interpret "what was this person thinking, when he/she writes this". Thus the process may become buried, while the information gained (or "the result") is there.
    – mavavilj
    Nov 16, 2021 at 10:55
  • I don't know if knowing what the audience knows and doesn't know is very easy, unless one knows the readers very well. Which might only be possible in some very small field? But if you don't know, what the "use cases" for your readers will be, then it sounds like throwing a dice. I.e. that it's very, very complicated to know what to put there and what to leave out.
    – mavavilj
    Nov 16, 2021 at 11:05
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    @mavavilj Precisely. This is why writing well is so hard.
    – Lodinn
    Nov 16, 2021 at 11:08
  • "Being succint is actually the most objective way to write something because you need to focus on what your audience knows and doesn't know." That doesn't follow.
    – toby544
    Nov 16, 2021 at 14:16
  • @toby544 succint, not concise
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 16, 2021 at 14:18

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