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”
- “Case” — usually unnecessary
- Character — often redundant
- “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
- While — avoid using for “and”, “but”, and “although”. Can often be replaced by a semi-colon.
Paul Graham on essays.