How to Avoid an Excursus
In fiction, authors should always avoid excursus. However, it’s not always easy to know how to do this! As you’re writing, you might not know whether readers will consider your explanation irrelevant to the main subject (i.e. excursus) or relevant (i.e. not excursus). The only way to figure this out is to ask people! Have them read your work and give feedback on whether they think a given point needs more, or less, explanation.
In formal writing, there are a few tricks you can use to ensure that you aren’t accidentally including unhelpful excursus:
- Make sure that you have a clear thesis statement.
- Make sure that your topic sentences relate back to your thesis statement.
- Make sure that the sentences in each paragraph relate back to the topic sentence.
In this way, you can double-check that your whole argument relates to the thesis statement, meaning you’ve cut out any possible excursus. However, it’s still best to get a friend or classmate to read over your work – you might think that certain statements are related to the thesis, but your reader might disagree, and it’s the reader’s perspective that counts. On this issue, there’s just no substitute for real human feedback.
V- When to use Excursus
It’s not always necessary to avoid excursus – in a scholarly argument, for example, it might be OK to diverge from the main point of the text (briefly) in order to explain something that’s tangentially related to the subject at hand. But it’s important to be careful! If you’re going to include an excursus in your argument, it should always be placed in a footnote or appendix. And if you’re writing a short paper, then it’s best to leave out the excursus altogether. Bear in mind that a long excursus can distract readers from your main argument and even make it hard to know what your main argument is!