Laconic Writing

When revising my thesis and articles (which I promise I'll begin doing promptly), a constant observation made by my supervisor is that I say too little with too many words. At first I thought it was just a conflict of style, and, coming from the side of storytelling, I enjoyed reading my academic writings as they were, so I didn't do much about it.

However, I just presented my fourth, and hopefully last draft of my thesis, and the same observation has come back. Other people have expressed the same opinion about my work as well: "The idea is very interesting, it's just too long-winded."

I'm worried about my storytelling antics in the academic side. My intention is for the reader to understand my work, and, thus, I reiterate, while trying to tell a story, to make the topic more comprehensible. However, I've uncovered something hidden behind this excuse. Bare with me while I digress...

Spartans were revered for their militaristic style of life, which was based on three virtues: equality, military fitness and austerity. They lived in minimalist settings, and their sentiments were expressed in the bare minimum of words. In fact, they were famous for their Laconic wit, and many philosophers, including Socrates, rejected the popular idea of the dumb Spartan: "[...] if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like some expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child."

A good example of this is when Philip II threaten to invade Sparta. He stated "If I enter Laconia, I will level Sparta to the ground," to which the Spartans replied, "If." Another example is the beautiful comeback of Lycurgus, an important Spartan lawgiver, to a proposal to set up a democracy in Sparta: "Begin with your own family."

The more I've read about them, the more I've understood the beauty of austerity. Done properly, a bare minimum of words in a statement implies security, while being poetic. I envy them now, because I've realised that an important reason for the length of my writings is because of the use of vague statements like "I feel", "the majority of", "it is implied that", etc. that reek of insecurity.

I've talked to my supervisor about this, and it isn't really about the length of the text. In fact, oversimplification is dangerous, and there are topics that need lengthy explanations to be understood. What austerity is really about is making sure that every word in the text needs to be there: when the Samians went to ask the Spartans for their help, they did so with a long speech, to which the Spartans replied that they've forgotten the first half of the speech and "couldn't make nothing of the remainder". In a second hearing, the Samians came with just a bag and said "The bag wants flour." The Spartans answered that they didn't need to say "the bag", but still agreed to help.

I'll try my best from now on to not use "the bag", and texts will be long only when required. Just give me some slack once in a while; I'm a pompous ass and sometimes I want to show off.


Carmen said...


Unknown said...

I have not read any of your technical papers, but if you write them the same as you speak, I understand why you got those comments. Truth is, you are an acquire taste, and your work reflects this Caleto flavor. And for me, that I know and love you, is great, but a paper, specially a technical one must be kept simple. Only geeks like your self will end up reading it any way, therefore they will probably understand you without all of the Spartan references (which I personally found hilarious)

Cheers mate