Writing Advice From Berkeley

WRITING ADVICE FROM BERKELEY….Brad DeLong lists the two most common writing mistakes from his students:

  1. Nobody ever told them–or they have forgotten, or they are too stressed for time–to revise. They are handing in first drafts.

  2. Nobody ever told them that if you are going to hand in a first draft, an easy way to significantly improve it is to, when you are finished, cut the last paragraph from the paper and paste it at the beginning. Your final sum-up paragraph–written at the end, as you have by trying to write down what you think discovered what you really do think–is almost always going to make a better first paragraph than the first paragraph that you wrote.

#1 is so obvious that I can’t figure out what’s up with people sometimes. Note to bloggers: yes, you’re allowed to proofread your posts, check your links, noodle over a phrase, and think twice about what you’re saying before you press the “Publish” button. Honest.

(People ask me sometimes what the secret to good writing is. I don’t know. Lots of practice, for one. But I can tell you this: a lot of writing that sounds effortless and fluid is anything but. It’s the result of rewriting, deleting, rephrasing, obsessive flipping through a thesaurus, googling to check up on data, and just generally reading and rereading what you’ve written. A blog post isn’t a term paper, but you still need to do this stuff in miniature if you want to consistently make sense.)

(And bloggers, please check your links. That is, after you publish a post, bring it up in your browser and click through every link in the post. It only takes a few seconds. Thanks.)

As for Brad’s #2, I’m not so sure. However, as evidence in his favor, it’s true that when I excerpt stuff from published articles I frequently find myself excerpting the last paragraph or two. So maybe he’s on to something.