Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.

1. Reverse-engineer what you read.

2. Prose is a window onto the world. 

3. Don’t go meta. 

4. Let verbs be verbs.

5. Beware of the Curse of Knowledge.

Interlude: Steven Pinker's take on human nature. Is it evil?

Against chaos: The world is a hard place, but maybe humans aren't ...

6. Omit needless words.

7. Avoid clichés like the plague.

8. Old information at the beginning, new information at the end.

9. Save the heaviest for last.

Interlude: Steven Pinker's take on libertarianism (at any age, it's marginal).

10. Prose must cohere.

11. Revise several times.

12. Read it aloud.

13. Find the best word.

Want to dig further into Pinker's writing style? Here's the book he wrote on the subject. Enjoy!

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Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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