“THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE IS THE SINGLE BEST EXPLANATION I KNOW OF WHY GOOD PEOPLE WRITE BAD PROSE,” Steven Pinker observes in his thoroughly engaging new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century! He goes on in the same paragraph to lay the groundwork for the critical importance of knowing, first and foremost, who you are writing for—are they gonna get it or have you lost them straight out of the gate? Yep, the classic KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
This is one example of Pinker’s no-nonsense, clear style in a book chock-full of very good tell-by-showing writing samples, as well as some not so good that illustrate common errors, convoluted constructions, grotesque grammar and heaps more of just plain goop, often from the pens, pencils and keyboards of éminences grises. It’s all wonderfully delectable.
I found Chapter 4, “The Web, the Tree, and the String: Understanding Syntax Can Help a Writer Avoid Ungrammatical, Convoluted, and Misleading Prose,” the most intriguing and “fun” to interact with, as over the course of 60+ pages Pinker constructs elegant, complex sentence trees (think elaborate sentence diagramming) to uncover deep sentence structures, harmonized coordination, “noun piles” and much more. I hope this doesn’t sound merely like super yummy grammar nerd manna (that’s a noun pile), because Pinker explains it all in a sunshiney, here-to-help manner that shouldn’t scare you away.
I highly recommend this aha!-rich book to anyone looking to improve his or her communications, be it an email, memo, report, RFP response, blog, FB post or, hey, even a measly little tweet or handwritten postcard to grandma.