How to Write Usefully - Deepstash
How to Write Usefully

How to Write Usefully

paulgraham.com

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Components of a good essay

Many people think a good essay is persuasive. But more importantly, an essay should be useful.
There are four parts to a good essay:

  • correctness
  • strength
  • importance
  • novelty

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Correctness

An essay should be correct. However, to be correct is not enough if it is vague. 

Don't publish anything unless you're sure it's worth hearing. Write the first draft of an essay quickly, trying out all sorts of ideas. Then rewrite it very carefully, being sure to sift out anything that you're not sure of, or that is not true. Useful writing makes claims that are as strong as they can be without overstating it.

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Strength

Strength comes from two things: thinking well, and the skillful use of qualification.

Qualifications can express many things: how broadly something applies, how you know it, how happy you are it's so, even how it could be falsified. As you try to refine the expression of an idea, adjust the qualification accordingly. The more you refine an idea, the less you'll need to qualify it. However, don't underestimate qualification. Learn to use its full range.

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Importance

Make something you yourself want.

The reader is not entirely unlike you. If you write about a topic that is important to you, it will seem important to many readers as well.

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Novelty

Telling people something novel doesn't always mean surprising them. It could mean telling them something they knew unconsciously but were unable to put into words. In fact, those insights are often more valuable because they are more fundamental.

The way to get novelty is to write about topics you've thought about a lot. Anything you notice that surprises you will probably also surprise many readers. If you don't learn anything from writing an essay, don't publish it.

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The writing process

  • Write the first draft of an essay fast, trying various ideas. Then spend time rewriting it very carefully.
  • If you write a bad sentence, don't publish it. Delete it and do it again.
  • If a sentence seems clumsy, ask why it doesn't seem right. By asking this, you'll usually find the replacement right there.
  • Be considerate to the reader: say things as simple as possible.
  • Be humble. If you know you're an expert on some topic, you can admit when you learn something you didn't know.

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