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The Sense of Style

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The Sense of Style

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Can a book teach you to write well? Yes, it can.

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Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Well Structured
  • Eloquent


Psycholinguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker thinks the time has come for a new writers guide for a new century. He’s hopeful about the state of the English language. Contrary to purist hand-wringing, the English language isn’t deteriorating, Pinker says, but is very much alive. The challenge lies in using it to express yourself well. To help you reach that goal, Pinker’s erudite guide explains – with helpful examples – what makes writing coherent, compelling and clear. He offers his personal lists of terms and expressions to watch for – those that he thinks the traditional language police are too fussy about and those that he’s convinced writers must never misuse. You’ll find yourself thumbing the handy glossary when you need to reacquaint yourself with terms like “determinatives” and “genitives.” Because Pinker’s complex discussions of style and sentence trees may prove daunting for the beginner, this book won’t replace classic manuals like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. However, getAbstract believes this is an important addition to the bookshelves of experienced writers who want an inspiring refresher course on writing prose that’s a pleasure to read.  


Just Like a Movie

Talented writers are dedicated readers. They cultivate a “writerly ear” for effective language. If you are pursing the goal of writing well, regard it “a form of pleasurable mastery.” Learn from the examples of great writers and strive to be as good as they are. Writers as diverse as Richard Dawkins and Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) can provide lessons in writing well.

Just as a film director and camera operator create images when making a movie, good writers present pictures to their readers. They are sensitive to the sounds of words and use dictionaries frequently. They know the importance of showing, not telling. They feel deeply about the subjects they cover. These elements combine to give a writer a “sense of style.”

When you write, you create a fictional environment that you see clearly and present to your readers. To help them envision that world, use the “classic style” of writing, which presents the “disinterested truth.” By doing so, you introduce your readers to your world and have a discussion with them about it. This encourages your readers to enter your world, to “cooperate.”

Three Main Types of Style

Classic style...

About the Author

Steven Pinker chairs the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel and teaches psychology at Harvard University. His other books include The Stuff of Thought, The Language Instinct, and Words and Rules

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