- Use minimalism to achieve clarity.
- Decide on your paper’s theme and two or three points you want every reader to remember.
- Limit each paragraph to a single message.
- Keep sentences short, simply constructed and direct.
- Don’t slow the reader down.
- Don’t over-elaborate.
- And don’t worry too much about readers who want to find a way to argue about every tangential point and list all possible qualifications for every statement. Just enjoy writing.
- With regard to grammar, spoken language and common sense are generally better guides for a first draft than rule books.
- Commas denote a pause in speaking.
- Dashes should emphasize the clauses you consider most important — without using bold or italics — and not only for defining terms.
- Inject questions and less-formal language to break up tone and maintain a friendly feeling.
- Choose concrete language and examples.
- Avoid placing equations in the middle of sentences.
- When you think you’re done, read your work aloud to yourself or a friend.
- After all this, send your work to the journal editors.
- Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like.
The Pulitzer prizewinner shares his advice for pleasing readers, editors and yourself.
Cormac McCarthy’s words of wisdom, as told by Van Savage and Pamela Yeh: