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Nov 2015 by PCI College

Bite-Sized Book Review: The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century to help us do so by Steven Pinker.

Eoin Stephens reviews a new book by Steven Pinker, psychologist, linguist and popular author The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century to help us do so.

There are times, whether student or practitioner, when we need to write. (For me, obviously, it is one of those times right now…) We may be tackling an essay, an article, a blog post, a workshop flier, or some website content. It may be entirely motivated by our own desires, even by some inspiration that is in need of expression. Or it may be just one of those chores that sometimes needs doing. Either way, it presumably needs doing well. If we are going to go to the trouble (often quite costly in terms of time and anguish) of trying to communicate something in writing, it would be nice to reap the benefits of having communicated it clearly.

Is this something we can learn to do better? Steven Pinker, psychologist, linguist and popular author, thinks we can, and has written The Sense of Style. The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century to help us do so. It takes a brave writer to write about good and bad writing, but Pinker has never been one to avoid difficult topics (How the Mind Works, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, etc). He is an excellent communicator himself and while this book is obviously not holiday reading (except for word nerds such as myself) it is entertaining, practical and helpful.

Pinker makes many suggestions; here are just a few of them:

•    Read lots of good writing.
•    Try as far as possible to use what he calls “Classic Style”. This is where you as writer think of yourself as mainly drawing the reader's attention to certain aspects of the world (offering a window into the world, so to speak).
•    Use nominalisation rarely. This is where we make things unnecessarily formal and bureaucratic by using a noun form where a verb form would be clearer ("Rather than postponing something, you implement a postponement", p.50).
•    Be mindful of the Curse of Knowledge. This refers to the fact that the more familiar we are with a subject, the harder it is to put ourselves in the mind of a reader who is much less familiar with it.

So, if you need to write, I think this book is worth a read.

I hope I have made myself clear?
Eoin Stephens, MIACP, MACI (June 2015)
PCI College President

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