I stumbled upon a lovely little grammar and usage site by Jack Lynch, an English professor. He's good, and forthright about his pet peeves. Those of you who are fans of proper grammar and strong writing will enjoy the site -- even if you don't have a paper to write!
He also recommends reading George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language." It's a marvelous essay; I stole the title to this post from it. I have noticed so often, and especially when reading theoretical works, the problems Orwell addresses. Sloppy thinking reveals itself in tortured writing. Clear thinking produces clean and even graceful writing.
Here is a snippet of the essay:
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. . . . I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
No wonder I considered so much of the theory I read over the last year so much horseshit. It all strongly resembled the second sentence. Here's another marvelous bit:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
Go! Read some Orwell! Enjoy!