I would like to be able to write better. This leads me to read various articles about the art of writing. Today I read Russell’s article “How I Write“. There are some things that worked for him that would never work for me. He would think about a topic for a long period of time, let it simmer in his sub-conscious, until he got to the stage where revelation hit. And then he was able to dictate his whole essay or book. I certainly need time to think but I prefer a cycle of writing and editing.
He gives three maxims to improve writing:
- Never use a long word if a short word will do.
- If you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences.
- Do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end.
My favourite piece of advice is directed at professors but would be useful to anyone who writes in a field filled with jargon:
I am allowed to use plain English because everybody knows that I could use mathematical logic if I chose. … I suggest to young professors that their first work should be written in a jargon only to be understood by the erudite few. With that behind them, they can ever after say what they have to say in a language “understanded of the people”.