Top writing tip

The following quote is my number 1 writing tip. It is so vital that it is my number 2, 3 and 4 tip as well.


The most important thing in writing is to keep track of what your reader knows and doesn’t know.

Writing Tips for PhD Students, John H Cochrane, https://www.johnhcochrane.com/s/phd_paper_writing.pdf

Failing to follow this tip is the most common serious flaw I find in drafts of colleagues’ papers. This failure takes various forms, including:

  1. using a word or phrase that a reader would not know—but not defining or explaining the word or phrase.
  2. referring to an idea that a reader would not know—but not explaining the idea.
  3. using an unfamiliar acronym without spelling it out.
  4. explaining an unfamiliar word, phase or idea early in a document, then using the word or phrase (or mentioning the idea) again only much later in the document—but not reminding the reader briefly of the explanation.
  5. cross-referring to a new or complex idea using only a page number or paragraph number—breaking the reader’s reading to make her follow the cross-reference so that she can find out what the idea is.
  6. moving to a new topic in the middle of a document, without showing readers that it links to topics discussed earlier in the document.
  7. jumping over steps in a chain of logic, or not making important assumptions explicit.
  8. expecting readers to keep an overwhelming number of new ideas, facts or arguments in their heads without a recap.
  9. using a long and complex phrase, and then repeating it in full many times—even when a condensed version could still convey the same meaning clearly.
  10. telling the reader something she doesn’t need to know at that point in the narrative.

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