Pinker's Thirteen Rules for Better Writing

Steven Pinker tweets thirteen rules for better writing. Spotted via Boing Boing.
  1. Reverse-engineer what you read. If it feels like good writing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why?
  2. Prose is a window onto the world. Let your readers see what you are seeing by using visual, concrete language.
  3. Don’t go meta. Minimize concepts about concepts, like “approach, assumption, concept, condition, context, framework, issue, level, model, perspective, process, range, role, strategy, tendency,” and “variable.”
  4. Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appearance.”
  5. Beware of the Curse of Knowledge: when you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Minimize acronyms & technical terms. Use “for example” liberally. Show a draft around, & prepare to learn that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.
  6. Omit needless words (Will Strunk was right about this).
  7. Avoid clichés like the plague (thanks, William Safire).
  8. Old information at the beginning of the sentence, new information at the end.
  9. Save the heaviest for last: a complex phrase should go at the end of the sentence.
  10. Prose must cohere: readers must know how each sentence is related to the preceding one. If it’s not obvious, use “that is, for example, in general, on the other hand, nevertheless, as a result, because, nonetheless,” or “despite.”
  11. Revise several times with the single goal of improving the prose.
  12. Read it aloud.
  13. Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. Consult a dictionary with usage notes, and a thesaurus.
After absorbing these, read his The Sense of Style.

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Two weeks of teaching in Ethiopia

I just returned from teaching a class of twenty-two women in Addis Ababa, courtesy of IOHK. Rounding off eight weeks of Haskell, taught by Lars Brünjes and Polina Vinogradova, I spent two weeks teaching IOHK's smart contract languages Plutus and Marlowe. It was an amazing experience. I thank IOHK and my students for the opportunity, and I look forward to repeating it someday.

Here is IOHK's announcement prior to the course, and an analysis from an outsider.

Thank you to my students for introducing me to injera!

With Wanda, Lars, and Polina in traditional dress at the graduation ceremony.

All the students in traditional dress for graduation. They wear it well!

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Root causes

Trevor Sumner delivers an incisive analysis of the root causes of the Ethiopian airlines crash. Many call it a software failure, but he looks at a trail of issues: economic problem, airframe problem, aerodynamic problem, systems engineering problem, sensor problem, maintenance practices problem, pilot training problem, pilot expertise problem, and back to economic problem.

(Thanks to Robin Sloan for highlighting Sumner's post in his weekly newsletter, Year of the Meteor.)

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