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How to Write Usefully

paulgraham.com

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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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'...

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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, ad...

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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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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 ab...

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  • 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 thi...

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