When the pope offers writing advice, should you listen?
theguardian.com – Friday October 25, 2019
Pope Francis offered the staff of the Vatican some writing advice in September: “Give up using adjectives” – and also adverbs, as in phrases such as “authentically Christian”, to which he declared himself allergic. I suppose if there’s anyone you can’t condemn for pontificating like this, it’s the pontiff. Yet his advice annoyed me, as did some newly published tips aimed at scientists from the novelist Cormac McCarthy, who turns out to have been giving behind-the-scenes editorial advice to leading researchers for years. “Remove extra words or commas whenever you can,” reads McCarthy’s advice (as paraphrased by two of his academic collaborators). Also: “Don’t overelaborate.” Though he’s less of a stickler than Francis when it comes to adjectives: “Only use an adjective if it’s relevant.” In short, we’re back to William Strunk and EB White’s famous advice in The Elements Of Style: “Omit needless words.”
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