Steve Pinker and Coherence Arcs

A Friend of mine — who is not a native English speaker — got frustrated with her English writing. Her frustration surprised me because I could see how much her writing skills had improved of the last several years. She could see the improvements too. But these improvements were about grammar. She wanted more improvement  in her writing style.

That led me to think a bit. “Is there a systematic way to accomplish that?” Good question. Of course, there are great resources on style, mostly books. But what about something you could use while you edit? Like a checklist? Using such a checklist could put principles to work.

So I have been working on that checklist and I will post about it here. The first step, of course, is to think through the path you want the reader to follow to the conclusion of your piece. Steven Pinker calls this a series of “cognitive arcs”, From words to sentences to paragraphs, chapters and so on to the entire work. Good style makes these connections work for the reader. Great writing makes the cognitive arcs very easy to manage. They are so easy that they seem invisible.


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