Remember The 'Curse Of Knowledge' To Improve Your Writing

Remember the

The internet is a wonderful thing: it allows anyone with a thought and a keyboard to become a writer. Unfortunately, it also means there's a lot of bad writing out there — most of which, says Steven Pinker, stems from the "curse of knowledge".

When many of us write about a subject, we write with an expansive knowledge of the topic at hand — knowledge that our reader often doesn't have. This, Pinker says, is the source of most bad writing today:

Picture: None of Your Business/Flickr

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn't occur to the writer that her readers don't know what she knows — that they haven't mastered the argot of her guild, can't divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualise a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn't bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

This isn't always intentional, of course — it's a hard curse to overcome. Pinker's advice, however, is common: think of the writer over your shoulder, get feedback on your early drafts (preferably from someone not "in the know"), and be sure to edit your own writing after having had a break from it.

It's not new advice by any means, but knowing the cause is just as important as knowing the solution. The more you explain the context, the more readers you'll be able to ultimately reach.

The Source of Bad Writing [Wall Street Journal]


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