Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

From How to say nothing in five hundred words:

Paul Roberts

  • List as many arguments as you can. When you can’t anymore, you’ve probably listed most of your cached thoughts. Don’t use these.
  • When in doubt, go for maximum surprise.
  • Concrete is better than abstract.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Don’t hedge. Decide what you want to say and say it as vigorously as possible, without apology and in plain words.
  • Avoid pat expressions. They are no creation of yours but pieces of common thought floating in the community soup.
  • Choose words that are dressy instead of plain, specific instead of general, loud instead of soft. E.g. in place of “her heart beat,” we may write, “her heart pounded, throbbed, fluttered, danced.”
  • However, it should not be supposed that the fancy word is always better. Often it is as well to write “Her heart beat” or “It was hot” if that is all it did or all it was.
  • The meaning of a word is the sum of the contexts in which it occurs. When we hear a word, we hear with it an echo of all the situations in which we have heard it before. E.g. when you hear “mother” you probably think of home, safety, love, food.
  • Words like “mother” are loaded with associations that are hard to indicate in a straightforward definition.
  • Avoid words of such general meaning that in a particular sentence they mean nothing (e.g. “nice”).
  • In particular, avoid nouns of general meaning (e.g. circumstances, cases, instances, aspects, factors, relationships, attitudes, eventualities).

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