I’m sure you’ve read my blog and always wondered if you could also be a blogger or even a writer of books.
Good writing is often looked at as an art. It can be intimidating, but not to worry, there are rules.
Actually more of a science really to writing well. So today I’m about to reveal to you the rules e need to know to write the way the brain best understands.
According to a book I recent read, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker there are indeed rules to writing well so that anyone can understand. Here’s the video though in case you don’t want to buy the book.
But here are the tips in the book summarized.
Visual and Conversational Learners are the Majority
Humans are visual creatures. We are primates, with a third of our brains dedicated to vision, and large amounts of the brain are devoted to touch, hearing, motion, and space.
So making the reader “see” is a good goal and being concrete has huge effects. Research suggests that trying to sound smart actually makes you look stupid.
Imagine you’re telling a friend who is as smart as you are something they don’t know. You also want to be conversational; too many people are trying to impress others and sound smart. College undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the complexity of their vocabulary so as to sound intelligent.
To engage the audience, we need to go from “I think I understand” to “I understand” by making the reader see the sights and feel the motions. Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images.
Equality between a writer and reader makes the reader feel like a genius and is the hallmark of Classical writing; bad writing makes the reader feel like a dunce.
So be visual and conversational as it’ll take your writing to the next level.
In-depth knowledge of a topic is a curse
Once you know something you assume others do too. This aspect of human nature often leads to bad writing.
The main reason your writing isn’t clear is not your fault at all as your brain is wired to be process information visually; explaining something in your mind in writing requires converting those visual images to words in your language, something your brain does badly.
This phenomenon called “the curse of knowledge and has been studied in various guises in the psychological literature” This is really the inability that to explain to someone who lacks knowledge that which we know well.
Writers often assume that the words that they know are common knowledge and the facts that they know are universally known. Reality: That is not true as we Jamaican often say “Common sense is not common”. Social psychologists have found that we are overconfident, sometimes delusional, making the assumptions people closes to us are on our “wavelength” when in fact they are not!
Often times, people will say to you “Explain it to me like I’m 5 years old”! First, a means of avoiding this problem, read it back to yourself repeatedly, correcting for grammar and punctuation. Then have someone else read your work and tell you if it makes sense to them.
Show a draft to some people who represent your intended audience and find out whether they can follow it. Even better if they are some random people; it’s often it’s enough that they are not you as only when we ask those people do we discover that what’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to them.
Old Journalism rule: Don’t Bury the Lead
People need a reference point so they can follow what you’re saying. Without it they’re lost. This isn’t just an old journalism saying; it’s also backed by research.
Basically, a writer has to make it clear to the reader what the topic of the passage is and what the point of the passage is. If readers don’t know the background knowledge to apply, any passage of writing will sketchy and elliptical to the point of being incomprehensible.
Keeping the reader in suspense isn’t useful if people have no idea what you’re talking about. They will often quit reading after the first paragraph.
Many writers feel that revealing the lead spoils the suspense. Unless you’re a mystery writer or a really good joke teller, building up suspense is pointless. Having a sudden epiphany where it all makes sense does not help in expository subject writing; the reader should really know where the writer is taking them as they proceed.
So best to stop trying to be clever and just be clear!
A Dictionary isn’t a Rulebook but try to be grammatically correct
Dictionaries aren’t rulebooks. They follow language, they don’t guide it.
When it comes to correct English, there’s no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum. Dictionary Editors read a lot, looking for new words and adding or changing the definitions accordingly.
But creative license is encouraged. To be a great writer, know the rules of English or whatever language you’re writing in before you break them.
There are hundreds of millions of English speakers and they are constantly adding new terms to the language. They’re constantly changing shades of meaning. There’s no rules committee when it comes to English, but learn them before you break them.
The First Aid in English, along with your dictionary, is also a must-have as well for any good writer. Read widely to increase your idioms and constructions and figures of speech.
Many great writers have never read a book about writing. By reading and reading and reading.
Writing guides are excellent tools but anyone who wants to improve their writing needs to read a lot.
You need to spend a lot of time immersed in text. This allows you to soak up thousands of idioms and constructions and figures of speech and interesting words, to develop a sense of writing at its best.
Becoming a writer requires savoring and reverse-engineering examples of good prose. It gives you something to aspire to and allowing you to become sensitive to the hundreds of things that go into a good sentence that couldn’t possibly be spelled out one by one.
So read more of the genre you wish to write under, so that your writing will sound familiar and well versed.
Good Writing Means Revising and Proofreading
The way the ideas initially pour out of your head is not the best way to get them; they have to be edited. The words come out perfect immediately as you need to beat those words into submission as a blacksmith beats iron into a fine sword.
Very few people are smart enough to be able to lay down an argument and to express it in clear prose at the same time. Always write in drafts, with the first draft to get all the ideas down and the second to refine and polish and a final Draft to set everything up for publication.
Good writing requires revising and rearranging the order of your 1st Draft so that by the time you reach your final draft, you can introduce your subject so that the reader can easily follow it.
As for expressing yourself concisely, Twitter can help. Researchers have found that using Twitter might actually be improving people’s writing by making them edit and be more concise.
The linguists also measured Twitter’s lexical density, its proportion of content-carrying words like verbs and nouns.
They have found it was not only higher than e-mail’s, but was comparable to the writing on Slate, the control used for magazine-level syntax. Twitter actually may be improving its users’ writing, as it forces them to wring meaning from fewer letters.
So don’t forget to have some fun with writing, too. Sharing is caring so share this with your friends.
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