The Sense of Style - Deepstash

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1. Signposting

1. Signposting

This refers to the habit of saying what you’re going to say, saying it, and then saying what you’ve said.

One way to introduce a topic without signposting is to open with a question. Observe the following example:

This chapter discusses the factors that cause names to rise and fall in popularity.

vs.

What makes a name rise and fall in popularity?

The art of classic prose is to signpost sparingly, as we do in conversation, and with a minimum of metadiscourse.

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2. Focusing On The Profession Instead Of The Subject

2. Focusing On The Profession Instead Of The Subject

Writers live in two universes. One is the world of the thing they study. The other is the world of their profession. Most of a researcher’s waking hours are spent in the second world, and it’s easy for him to confuse the two.

Example:

In recent years, an increasing number of psychologists and linguists have turned their attention to the problem of child language acquisition. In this article, recent research on this process will be reviewed.

vs.

All children acquire the ability to speak a language without explicit lessons. How do they accomplish this feat?

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3. Misusing Quotation Marks

3. Misusing Quotation Marks

For example:

It began as a movement led by a few “young turks” against an “old guard” who dominated the profession.

Classic style is confident about its own voice. If you’re not comfortable using an expression without apologetic quotation marks, you probably shouldn’t be using it at all.

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4. Hedging

4. Hedging

This refers to the use of words such as:

virtually, almost, apparently, comparatively, fairly, in part, nearly, partially, predominantly, presumably, rather, relatively, seemingly, so to speak, somewhat, sort of, to a certain degree, to some extent, I would argue

Writers acquire the hedge habit in hopes that it will get them off the hook, or at least allow them to plead guilty to a lesser charge, should a critic ever try to prove them wrong.

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5. Clichés

5. Clichés

When a reader is forced to work through one stale idiom after another, she stops converting the language into mental images and slips back into just mouthing the words.

Examples:

Bread and butter

Coasting on its laurels

Renaissance man

Bite the bullet

Knock people's socks off

Sky's the limit

Throw the baby with the bathwater

Elephant in the room

Even when a shopworn image is the best way to convey an idea, a classic writer can keep his reader engaged by remembering what the idiom literally refers to and playing with the image to keep it in her mind’s eye.

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6. Metaconcepts

6. Metaconcepts

Metaconcepts are ineffective because they are abstractions, which cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Could you recognize a “level” or a “perspective” if you met one on the street? Could you point it out to someone else? What about an approach, an assumption, a concept, a condition, a context, a framework, an issue, a model, a process, a range, a role, a strategy, a tendency, or a variable? These are metaconcepts: concepts about concepts.

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Example 1:

I have serious doubts that trying to amend the Constitution would work on an actual level. On the aspirational level, however, a constitutional amendment strategy may be more valuable.

vs.

I doubt that trying to amend the Constitution would actually succeed, but it may be valuable to aspire to it.

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Example 2:

What are the prospects for reconciling a prejudice reduction model of change, designed to get people to like one another more, with a collective action model of change, designed to ignite struggles to achieve intergroup equality?

vs.

Should we try to change society by reducing prejudice, that is, by getting people to like one another? Or should we encourage disadvantaged groups to struggle for equality through collective action? Or can we do both?

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7. Zombie Nouns and Adjectives

7. Zombie Nouns and Adjectives

These are nouns and adjectives that lumber across the scene without a conscious agent directing their motion.

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Zombie 1

Nominalization: turning a verb into a lifeless noun, by adding a suffix, e.g. –ance, –ment, –ation, or –ing.

Example:

Prevention of neurogenesis diminished social avoidance.

vs.

When we prevented neurogenesis, the mice no longer avoided other mice.

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Zombie 2

Turning verbs into adjectives

Example:

It may be that some missing genes are more contributive to the spatial deficit.

vs.

Perhaps some missing genes contribute to the spatial deficit.

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8. Unnecessary Passive Voice

8. Unnecessary Passive Voice

The passive voice, when misused, can read like an evasive maneuver, take away urgency, or draw attention away from the subject.

Examples:

Extreme Exposure to CO may rapidly be fatal without producing significant warning symptoms.

vs.

Generator exhaust contains carbon monoxide. This is a poison you cannot see or smell.

Using the wrong voice can make the reader's focus crane back and forth.

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Classic style is not the only way to write

But it’s an ideal that can pull writers away from many of their worst habits, and it works particularly well because it makes the unnatural act of writing seem like two of our most natural acts: talking and seeing.

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CURATED BY

CURATOR'S NOTE

Style is the effective use of words to engage the human mind. Below are some common approaches that could be minimized to make your writing more effective and and engaging, whether that's fiction or non-fiction.

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