September 25, 2019

Clear Writing Notes

Lessons from George Orwell, Scott Adams, Paul Graham and Strunk & White

  • Make the paragraph the unit of composition, one idea per paragraph
  • Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence
  • Use the active instead of the passive voice wherever possible
  • Put statements in positive form
  • Omit needless words (Relentlessly prune bullshit)
    • Remove the fact that” from every sentence
    • Who is”, which was” etc. are often superfluous
  • In general, write short sentences. However, sometimes many short sentences can be made more concise by amalgamating into a longer one.
  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences. Break up monotonous, long sentences into shorter ones.
    • Especially a construction involving two clauses joined by a which/and/but”
  • Express coordinate ideas in a similar form
  • Keep related words together
    • The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.
  • Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

Words to avoid, according to Strunk and White:

  • All right”
  • As good or better than” — split up
  • As to whether” — “whether”
  • Bid
  • Case” — usually unnecessary
  • Certainly
  • Character — often redundant
  • Clever
  • Due to”
  • Effect — promotes vagueness
  • Factor — promotes vagueness
  • Feature — promotes vagueness
  • He is a man who” — redundant
  • Along these lines” — promotes vagueness
  • Nature — often redundant, like character
  • One of the most” — boring
  • Respectively — can usually be omitted
  • So — leads to repetitive sentences
  • System — often used needlessly
  • Very
  • While — avoid using for and”, but”, and although”. Can often be replaced by a semi-colon.

Paul Graham on essays.


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