31 August, 2008

Six rules for rewriting by Michael Nilsen

Very helpful post by one of the pioneers of quantum computation, Michael Nilsen. Here are the ideas which I find the most interesting:

1) Every sentence should grab the reader and propel them forward: Academics are wont to ignore this rule, believing the reader should be willing to endure any pain for a sufficient payoff. Of course, academics aren’t paid per reader. Good bloggers and journalists know better.

2) Use the strongest appropriate verb: Identify the verb in every sentence, and ask if you can improve it, perhaps eliminating adjectives and adverbs in the process. This is simple and mechanical, but often yields great improvements with little effort.

3) Beware of nominalization: A common way we weaken verbs is by turning them into nouns, and then combining them with weaker verbs. This bad habit is called nominalization. Contrast the wishy-washy “I conducted an investigation of rules for rewriting” with the more direct “I investigated rules for rewriting”. In the first sentence I have nominalized the strong verb “investigated” so that it becomes the noun “investigation”, and then combined it with the weaker verb “conducted”.

Probably we can generalize these rules as:

"Avoid the official, bureaucratic language in your articles. Surprisingly, science can be easily understood as an interesting story, without useless overcomplications."

No comments: