The short guide to English writing

John Scalzi, sci-fi author and prolific blogger, has a list of his best posts for 2006. It is worth visiting, and this non-writers guide to writing English (or, for that matter, any other language) is excellent and will be standard reading for all my courses from now on. Here’s an excerpt:

9. When in doubt, simplify: Worried you’re not using the right words? Use simpler words. Worried that your sentence isn’t clear? Make a simpler sentence. Worried that people won’t see your point? Make your point simpler. Nearly every writing problem you have can be solved by making things simpler.

This should be obvious, but people don’t like hearing it because there’s the assumption that simple = stupid. But it’s not true; indeed, I find from personal experience that the stupidest writers are the ones whose writing is positively baroque in form. All that compensating, you know. Besides, I’m not telling you to boil everything down to "see spot run" simplicity. I am telling you to make it so people can get what you’re trying to say.

If I could only do that consistently myself. His points about grammar are also interesting – one of the few things Norwegian schools do better than US or English schools. I have experienced myself, not infrequently, that I will know correct English usage better than native English speakers because I know some grammatical principles.

Anyway: Key point for non-writers: Speak what you write. If you can’t speak it, don’t write it. Simple indeed.

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One thought on “The short guide to English writing

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