Thursday, January 13


Most of my friends know my uncanny ability to notice typos everywhere. I am not sure why that is so, as I do not read all that much (that I do intend to change). There is a bit of irony that I am working on SchoolTool (school administration software) at the moment. Darn, I wish I was good at punctuation instead of spelling, which is becoming less useful as automatic spellcheckers get better. Which brings me to the point.

Recently I have come across an interesting essay called "The Philosophy of Punctuation" by Paul Robinson. It is rather wordy, but well worth reading. I have picked a few things that I could apply to my own writings.

Most importantly the essay brought my attention to the fact that I am overusing punctuation. I used to like long, intricate sentences with dashes, parentheses and semicolons. Connecting ideas in various ways seemed interesting and original. However, Robinson claims that overusing punctuation indicates a lack of writing ability. "Expository prose is linear," and therefore ideas should be presented sequentially. Dashes and semicolons "betoken stylistic laziness," they are a sign of weakly connected ideas.

With regard to long sentences, I read somewhere on the web that varying sentence length helps keep the reader interested. I still rarely use short sentences, but I'm getting better. At least my recent writings are stylistically lighter and more lucid than ones I wrote a few years ago. I am still dissatisfied with structure of my writings, that will probably take time to improve.

I found the personified descriptions of the punctuation marks highly entertaining and persuasive. The style also helps the message that it is not a good idea to try to outwit yourself. It is not clever to obfuscate content, and trying to be modern is a bad excuse. Making the text overly complex means that you distance yourself from the reader, which hinders not only readability of the text, but emotional response as well.

Robinson also expressed the old idea that "Good writing is as much a matter of subtraction as creation." This is good to be reminded of, and so obvious that I need not add anything.

For technical people who care about their writing I could suggest to have a look at Lyn Dupre's "BUGS in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose" ( Although in my opinion sometimes Dupre overshoots while trying to attain lucidity, that may not be necessarily a bad thing as the goal is to help people who are already used to a formal, rigid writing style.


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