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Good Writing

Posted on Tue, Jul 20, 2021 summary

Here are some of my notes from the article "Good Writing" by Merc H. Railbert. Original link is here.

Once you decide that you want to produce good writing and that you can produce good writing, then all that remains is to write bad stuff, and to revise the bad stuff until it is good. Here are some tips extracted from the article:

Two top-level tips for good writing:
  • You must want to produce good writing.
  • You must believe you can produce good writing.

Your writing will get better with experience and confidence, but it will probably not get much easier.

Good writing starts with your desire to produce good writing.

Good Writing is Bad Writing That Was Rewritten

Good writing starts out bad

This observation is important because it has two implications.

  1. The first implication is that when you start a new paper or report, there is nothing wrong with using bad writing.
    1. Your goal when you start is to get your ideas down on paper in any form you can. Incomplete sentences, streams of consciousness, lists of ideas, and outlines are all good ways of getting started.
  2. The second implication of the idea that good writing starts out bad, is that you will revise the bad stuff until it is good.
    1. Here's what you should do during all that revising:
      1. Scrutinize each paragraph and revise it until it is a good one.
      2. Scrutinize the glue between your paragraphs.
Spill the Beans Fast
  • When you are spilling the beans at the beginning of your paper, don't just refer to your results, give your results.
  • Don't Get Attached to Your Prose
    • I find that using a "refuse file" for all the well-written text that I don't need permits me to get on with the task of telling my story, without worrying too much about losing potentially useful intermediate results.
  • Spill the beans in the title, abstract, introduction, body
How to get unstuck
  1. When you are stuck, try listing the points you want to make.
    1. Write down the topic of each paragraph you have written, in one or two words each.
    2. Shuffle the topics into a coherent outline, adding topics as necessary.
    3. Rearrange the paragraphs of text to follow the organization of the outline.
    4. Revise the shuffled document, and add text for the added topics.
Husband your readers
  1. A serious review of your writing by someone other than yourself is an essential ingredient in making your writing clear and good. However, readers who will carefully review your work are a precious resource you must conserve.
  2. Circulate a draft to just one or two people at a time.
  3. There is an important exception to this rule. You may find it useful to get help with the overall organization of your paper in the early stages of its development.
    1. The best source of this kind of feedback is someone with a broad and mature view of your research area.
  4. If they get confused at a particular point, don't argue with them explaining why what you wrote really is clear. Rewrite that part to overcome whatever confused your reader.
  5. Avoid run-on sentences.

Thats it! Enjoy writing! 🖊️😃