Thinking About Thinking: On the “curse of knowledge” in writing well

Writing well is a difficulty that plagues even the greatest of writers.  As Steven Pinker told audiences last year, it can be attributed to the “curse of knowledge.”


Steven Pinker addressing an audience. Photo credit: Harvard Gazette

As this Harvard Gazette piece from last year states:

Why is it so difficult to write well? Pinker described the primary culprit as “the curse of knowledge,” which he defined as “the failure to understand that other people don’t know what we know.” Pinker recommended a few methods to “exorcise” this curse, including “remember it as a handicap to overcome” and “show a draft [of your writing] to a representative reader” to see if it’s comprehensible. If it’s not, revise for clarity.

Pinker made a final suggestion to those seeking to improve their writing. Take a piece of writing (a book, an article, etc.) that you deem exemplary and “re-engineer it,” meticulously examining its component parts in order to understand exactly how the writer constructed it. Writing is an all-important skill, said Pinker, one “many people consider the signature accomplishment of a university education,” and we can do it better.

Read more here.


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