Developing a writing style

There has been for quite a while a short page of notes here at Logic Matters, intended for graduate students (or indeed for anyone) on writing essays, thesis chapters, draft papers. I recently noticed that it is still visited two or three thousand times a year, so I guess there must be links to it out there! So I thought it was worth taking a quick look at it again and revising it just a little. Here’s the not-very-revised version.

1 thought on “Developing a writing style”

  1. As an experiment, I decided to apply some of the advice — prefer shorter words, cut words that can be cut, don’t use the passive when the active will do, and make it read better aloud — to the following sequence of sentences:

    If you can’t do this with conviction, you will know that something is wrong with the writing. If your tongue stumbles over laborious sentences, or if a sentence sounds ugly or flat or tedious when read out, then it needs revision. If the passage from one sentence to the next is jerky or unnatural, if a paragraph lacks shape and rhythm, then (again) revision is needed.

    Since thoughts of reading aloud led to thoughts or oratory — when repetition is not shunned — I went against the advice to avoid repetition. The result:

    If you can’t read with conviction, then something is wrong. If your tongue stumbles, if a sentence sounds flat, ugly or tedious, then something is wrong. If the step from one sentence to the next is jerky or unnatural, if a paragraph lacks shape and rhythm, then something is wrong. Revise until it reads smoothly and flows.

    I might even argue that as the sentences become longer, the repetition brings them back to a common point, making the whole easier to follow.

    OTOH, it no longer sounds quite like Peter Smith. That’s not an implied criticism of either version: I think it reflects the difference between ‘a writing style’ and ‘good style’. ‘A writing style’ is distinctive, at least to some extent, while ‘good style’ is more about avoiding (or correcting) certain problems, and producing something well-structured and clear.

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