Why I want my own Sense of Style

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss the new Steven Pinker book, Sense of Style…

I’m telling my family the #1 item on my Christmas gift list is a copy of Steven Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

I’ve mentioned it on my blog once before, but I keep seeing links to it everywhere.  Here, and here, and here, and here for example. And everything I read about it makes me want to own the book.

Here are six of the points Pinker makes that I truly support:

  • Be visual and conversational. Don’t try to sound “smart” or “well educated.” Write using everyday language. This will make your message more readable to more people.
  • Beware “the curse of knowledge.” If you know too much about a subject (alert: academics, this point is for you!) you’re going to have a hard time writing about it clearly. Get some advice — aka: editing — from people who know nothing about your subject area. Your goal is for your writing to make sense to them.
  • Don’t bury your lead. I learned this as a journalist. Always begin with your point or — better — a story illustrating your point. Don’t wait for paragraph 36 before you reveal it.
  • You don’t have to play by the rules, but try. Yes, you can break rules of grammar but only if you know the rules and have a good reason for breaking them.
  • Read. The best way to learn writing is to read good writing. Read voraciously and widely.
  • Revise. Never send your crappy first draft to anyone. Take lots of time to review it — more than once! — before you hit “send.”

These rules are so simple and straightforward I find it refreshing (almost unbelievable, really) that they come from an academic.

I’m counting the days until Christmas…