Student-writers often believe that the secret of good writing is a reliance upon bigger and “better” words. Thus the haphazard thesaurus use that I wrote about last month. Another danger for student-writers involves the assumption that good writing is a matter of stuffy, ponderous sentences. Stuffy sentences might be explained by the need to make a required word-count, but I see such sentences even in writing assignments of only modest length. Most often, I think, these sentences originate in the mistaken idea that stuffiness is the mark of serious, mature writing.
A writer can begin to unstuff a sentence by looking closely at each of its elements and asking if it is needed. Here is an extreme example:
To begin, it is important to note that the theme of regret is an important theme in “The Road Not Taken,” which was written by Robert Frost, and that evidence for it can be found throughout the entire poem.
“To begin”: Like “to conclude,” this phrase is an unnecessary, empty transition. If a point is coming early (or late) in an essay, trust that a reader can see that. Removing “To begin” involves no loss of meaning.