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How To Be A Better Writer: 6 Tips From Harvard’s Steven Pinker

Stashed in: @bakadesuyo, Awesome, Writing!, Writing, Grammar, Skills to Pay the Bills, Write

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3) Don’t Bury The Lead

Yeah, it’s an old saying from journalism. What’s it mean? Tell the reader what your point is. And tell them early.

What I didn’t know was that this isn’t just an old journalism saying — it’s also backed by research.

People need a reference point so they can follow what you’re saying. Without it they’re lost.

Here’s Steven:

Readers always have to fill in the background, read between the lines, connect the dots. And that means that they’re applying their background knowledge to understanding the text in question. If they don’t know which background knowledge to apply, any passage of writing will be so sketchy and elliptical, that it’ll be incomprehensible. And that’s why journalists say, “Don’t bury the lead.” Basically, a writer has to make it clear to the reader what the topic of the passage is and what the point of the passage is. That is, the writer has to have something to talk about and the writer has to have something to say.

Feel like that will kill the suspense? Again, stop trying to be clever and just be clear. 

Suspense isn’t useful if people have no idea what you’re talking about and quit reading after the first paragraph.

Here’s Steven:

A lot of writers are reluctant to do that. They’re reluctant to say something like, “This paper is about hamsters,” or whatever the paper is about. Because they feel that kind of spoils the suspense. But unless you’re a really skilled mystery writer or a really good joke teller, it’s good not to try to build up suspense and then have a sudden epiphany where it all makes sense. The reader should really know where the writer is taking them as they proceed.

How soon should you say what the topic is? Soon. Really soon. Not too far from the beginning.

Funny that this is point #3.

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