May 2008

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« Minutia | Main | Casting Dilbert »





I can't help but be amused as half of the commenters leave something saying 'you're brilliant, Scott!'. You people do realise that Scott is just passing on information gathered from a class, right? This isn't his brainchild. If you want to slather him in conjectural love, admire his books!


Thank you.

And thank you for doing your part to stem the very tide.


I'd add a comment on structure - particularly for business writing:

Buy a copy of Barbara Minto's "Pyramid Principle." Read it. Internalize it.


Usually it's the ball that hits the boy. :-)
Thanks for the good advice.

Christoph Jenkins

Hmmm... That explains the bevity of dear old Bush's speeches.


> That doesn't explain why other languages have completely different syntax to English.

But it does explain why all foreign speakers expend more of their brainpower on language, leaving less for everything else. After all isn't it only the English-speaking part of the world that has kids speaking English by about age 3? I hear some of those foreigners don't even understand cricket.

C Johnson

So, in summary, assume your target audience are morons and write short sentences using small words.

As for comedy... You can't swill a coke, and since drank is the past of drink, that probably means you can't swall a coke either....

What? No drum roll? Dang busted comedy punchline machine? How will people know to laugh?

Great post. Thanks.


I'm with you on this one. The best thing I ever did for my writing was attend journalism school, where we have this saying: "In English classes, including 100% of the information will get you an A. In journalism classes, you have to chose the right 10% to be the most effective."

Lubna Kably

If I write in simple terms, perhaps I will lose my job. You see we tax guys have a reputation to protect. Perhaps the pointy headed boss must attend a business writing class. Can't wait to see what will happen then.


I like your rules. As a former columnist, I'll say that everything Scott says is excellent advice. Once you really get your chops you can bend things a bit. However, if you never strayed you would almost certainly be considered an effective writer.

I'll add another piece of advice. Consider your words tonally. I'm a big fan of rhythm and pacing in writing. If you're not sure your words have a smooth flow, just read it aloud. If it sounds jarring aloud, it will sound off to whoever else is reading it too.


Don't forget to avoid redundancies such as "whether or not" or "bright sun."


This is exactly how I have thought since I figured it out in high school. I can't attest to the humor part, but for clarity, nothing beats simplicity =D


Not sure if you have seen this article, but it is very interesting read :

Has applicability on not just global warming, creationalism, and rest of the subjects you are interested in, but in basics of science as well.


In general, even smart people are stupid 90% of the time, so this makes sense. My normal tactic is to seem smart by writing compilcated sentences. People assume I'm talking sense because they lack the mental energy to work out exactly what I'm saying. Perhaps I should try writing shorter sentences instead.

I have a random idea for a blog post. I think you should take the political compass (google it) and post your results. It'd be hard to make it funny, but it'd be interesting to anyone politically minded.

Balkrishna Nadkarni

Yoda, where art thou?

Ray Saunders

BTW: There are several ways of organizing the words in a sentence and not all languages are the same. One way is not inherently more 'the way minds work' than another.


Yowza, Dilbee! this was by far the worst blog post you've ever sent published! Your writing is about as awesome as any writer could hope for but in this one here you seem to have been thinking about following the "rules" too much and (in my very humble opinion) your form did not benefit from the experience.

To reiterate: You're a writing God. Just not in this post. So much. Okay. Goodbye.




The Elements of Style by Strunk & White gives the same advice and more. It's worth 10 times the $10 price.


Hi there. Not sure if you have facebook, Scott, but here's a link to a dilbert app on there:

Ray Saunders

British novelist John Masters described (Pilgrim Son) how he learned to write by having his commander reject any words that were not critical to understanding. His goal became to write a paper with no adverbs, adjectives or suborndinate clauses - simple declarative sentences. It would certainly be easy to read, but boring. The real trick is always keep in mind the audience and the effect you want to produce in the minds of the readers. You speak differently to a 5-year-old than you would to a teenager. You speak differently to a business meeting than to a cocktail party. It's not so much what you want to say as it is what effect you want to produce.


This post was concise and informative.

I hope the microsoft technical writers read it.

a person

Well not all brains work that way, but all English speaking brains work that way.

Wait, what's the other 20%?!?! I suppose this will have to be good enough.

I don't remember if it was you or Stephan Pastis copying you who called it "economical" use of words.

George Orwell has an excellent essay that says sometihng very similar. I think it's called "on the English Language."

David Anderson

Thanks Doug...I've heard a lot of this before, but never so succinctly.

I have taken a lot of 1 and 2-day courses that could easily have been summarized in a 1 or 2-page typed handout. This would have saved me many hours of boredom.

I'm looking forward to the final 20% of your course material.[joke]

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