Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Harvard psychology: Why people can't write

Glenn Leibowitz (Inc.), getpocket.com; Ashley Wells, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

The single reason why people can't write, according to a Harvard psychologist
Sense of Style (Steven Pinker)
"Why is so much writing so hard to understand? Why must a typical reader struggle to follow an academic article, the fine print on a tax return, or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?"

These are questions Harvard psychologist Dr. Steven Pinker asks in his book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. They're questions I've often encountered  -- and attempted to tackle --  throughout my career as a business writer and editor.

Whenever I see writing that is loaded with jargon, clich├ęs, technical terms [or jargon], and abbreviations, two questions come immediately to mind. First, what is the writer trying to say, exactly?

Second, how can the writer convey her ideas more clearly, without having to lean on language that confuses the reader?

For Dr. Pinker the root cause of so much bad writing is what he calls the "Curse of Knowledge," which he defines as "a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose." More

No comments: