What Makes a Good Prose Style?

Jonathan says that my prose style has become a lot better than it was last summer. The truth, however, is that it hasn’t. What changed is that I now write every day, which means that I start every writing session by rereading the entire document. This means that I have read my most recent article 26 times.

Of course, every time I read it, I change something in it. As a result, the style improves a little bit with every change.

Maybe a good writing style is just that: a very polished kind of writing that the author has spent a lot of time editing, rereading, and then editing some more. People will now tell me that this is self-evident but, for me, this is a huge discovery. I always thought that people who wrote well just sat down and produced beautiful prose as a matter of course. A lot of editing, however, meant that a person had a bad writing style.

It’s like that joke:

“So how is married life?”

“Great! I like everything about my wife, except for one thing.”

“What is that?”

“She is very dirty.”

“Really?”

“Yes! She showers twice a day, so she must be absolutely filthy.”

6 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Prose Style?”

  1. I too edit a lot. I probably edit my grants and the introduction sections of my papers at least 25 times. My first and second drafts are also absolutely terrible; they mostly just contain a list of things I want to say, and by the time I am at the seventh or eighth draft, things start to look better.

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      1. I feel like it’ll be a good way for me to avoid procrastinating on my writing projects while maintaining my physics workload. It’s too easy for me to say “I have too much work to do,” and then proceed to play Minecraft for a half-hour or so before actually starting homework.

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  2. it’s like asking who is the slob in the barbecue joint. The one who takes many napkins or the one who takes none.

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