Monday, October 13, 2014

Steven Pinker on bad writing by good people

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker (pictured), a compelling and entertaining writer, recently published an article, “The Source of Bad Writing,”* in which he says that “the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose” is “the Curse of Knowledge.” The Curse is “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.” He includes illustrative examples and sound advice on how to lessen or work around that difficulty.

I salute Mr. Pinker for calling attention to the difficulty. During 47 years as a writer and editor, I have seen many knowledgeable people struggle to write clearly for readers who have less knowledge than they do. I struggle, too. Perhaps you do, too.

The Takeaway: I urge you to read Mr. Pinker’s article, “The Source of Bad Writing.” As he says, “Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel. It may not make you a better person in all spheres of life, but it will be a source of continuing kindness to your readers.” Read the article, follow the specific advice in it, and you will improve your ability to connect with readers and audiences.
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