Here are cognitive scientist Steven Pinker’s 13 tips for better writing
In January on Twitter, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now, shared 13 tips for writing:
- Reverse-engineer what you read. If it feels like good writing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why?
- Prose is a window onto the world. Let your readers see what you are seeing by using visual, concrete language.
- Don’t go meta. Minimize concepts about concepts, like “approach, assumption, concept, condition, context, framework, issue, level, model, perspective, process, range, role, strategy, tendency,” and “variable.”
- Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appearance.”
- Beware of the Curse of Knowledge: when you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Minimize acronyms & technical terms. Use “for example” liberally. Show a draft around, & prepare to learn that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.
- Omit needless words (Will Strunk was right about this).
- Avoid clichés like the plague (thanks, William Safire).
- Old information at the beginning of the sentence, new information at the end.
- Save the heaviest for last: a complex phrase should go at the end of the sentence.
- Prose must cohere: readers must know how each sentence is related to the preceding one. If it’s not obvious, use “that is, for example, in general, on the other hand, nevertheless, as a result, because, nonetheless,” or “despite.”
- Revise several times with the single goal of improving the prose.
- Read it aloud.
- Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. Consult a dictionary with usage notes, and a thesaurus.