Writing with a Sense of Style

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“Good writing is understood with the mind’s eye.” – Steven Pinker

In the Sense of Style Steven Pinker writes about the hallmarks of good writing. “Writing is an unnatural act. As children we have an instinctive tendency to speak but not to write and rewrite. The spoken word is older than our species … But the written word is a recent invention that has left no trace in our genome and must be laboriously acquired throughout childhood and beyond.”

In his book, Pinker makes several great writing recommendations:

1)   Choose concrete images over abstraction when possible.

2)  Banish archaic jargon. “As Adam Freeman points out in his book on legalese, “What distinguishes legal boilerplate is its combination of archaic terminology and frenzied verbosity, as though it were written by a medieval scribe on crack.”

3) While editing, read your writing in a mumble. “That which is hard to say is hard for the reader to comprehend.”

4) Write in a proper order. “English syntax demands subject before object. Human memory demands light before heavy. Human comprehension demands topic before comment and given before new.”

5) Keep punctuation to a minimum. Grammar changes with the trends. The trend now is to keep all punctuation to a minimum.

6) Be careful with negative statements. “Every negation requires mental homework.” It is easier to understand that “the king is alive” rather than “the king is not dead”.

7) Use the serial comma when writing a list: x, y, and z. NOT x, y and z.

 

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