Thursday, February 18, 2010

Advice on writing well

With a h/t to Texas in Africa and an apology for not posting because I'm trying to finish a paper, go read this. It's an essay by Henry Farrell on writing for political science.

Chris Blattman also has a good post about this.


  1. Check George Orwell's classic essay on how to write essays ("Politics and the English Language)." It does not get better than this...

  2. Alma beat me to it. The Orwell essay is tremendous.

  3. Orwell is HERE for those too lazy to cut and paste.

  4. Hi Lil,

    I would definitely include Stephen Pressfield's "Writing Wednesdays" that he publishes on his blog.

    It's been a tremendous help for me both with technical and prose writing.

  5. Thanks Mike--took a look, it's interesting.

  6. Line 1 from the above linked Chris Blattman post:

    "Proofread! You should not have spelling or grammatical errors."

    "Uh oh," says Madhu. "Good writing shall forever elude my grasp...."

  7. Madhu--you and I are in the same boat. Just this morning, I had to send a former ambassador an apologetic email for a typo in an email address (he needed it to contact the person). So embarrassing.

  8. Lil - everyone does stuff like that. I suspect that certain people are more ready to admit errors than others. That's my excuse, anyway!

    I think such errors are a function of screen reading versus dead-tree reading. Some of us are more likely to miss mistakes when we scan the online data.

    I bet that if you printed out the email, and proof-read the printed copy, you would have caught the error. But that's bad for the environment, so people like you and me are stuck and out of luck! Unless anyone knows any excercise(s) that might help....

    I asked a friend of mine, who used to work as a reporter, for help because now that I bother to write things - not really a part of the job before - I want to improve. She said, knowing me, "just slow down Madhu. You don't have to multitask EVERYTHING!"

    Also, she suggested grammar girl dot com :)

  9. Just this morning, I had to send a former ambassador an apologetic email for a typo in an email address (he needed it to contact the person).
    In 2007, I sent an email with an SVOIP number to a staff guy at our higher HQ. I mistyped the number. He called it and it turned out that the number with to (then) LTG Odierno's office. I don't think the General answered it personally, but it was kind of a "WTF" moment.

  10. Shmedlap that's scary. Makes me think of someone I know who was arranging a phone call for his boss with a Force Commander for a UN peacekeeping mission. He didn't have any numbers so he called the main line, asked for the FC's office and was the Force Commander's cell phone (and the FC answered of course).

    Madhu, you're right, I do better when I'm reading on paper but I only print if I need to proof something long. For important emails (like emails to a funder), I usually ask a colleague to read it before sending it.