LSE MSc student Perry Newsome distills some key advice from Sam Leith’s Polis Talk at the LSE on 4th December 2018

Effective writing skills are a life-long asset. No matter where you may be in your career, it is beneficial to refresh your familiarity with the basics of clear writing. Sam Leith, a journalist, author, and literary editor at The Spectator has identified some useful tips to help all writers improve their work. From the simple tweet to the complex dissertation, his concepts of simplicity, structure, audiences, and rhythm, can help make sure your writing is better than ever before.

Sam Leith speaking at the LSE on 4th December 2018

  1. Keep it Simple

Society now operates in an ‘attention economy’. The best way to grab and maintain attention in this interruption-heavy environment is through simplicity. Effective writers make understanding their message as easy as possible. General guidelines for simplicity include writing with words and sentences that are as short as possible. The less cognitive work that a reader has to do, the more likely it is that they will carry on reading.

  1. Know Your Audience

A writer’s goal is to connect with the largest possible share of their target audience. However, this is a difficult goal to achieve if you don’t know your audience or how they will react to your use of language. Leith states that writers should identify and utilize the audience’s preferred discourse (for example, formal or colloquial). As Leith mentions, it is important to “bait the hook with what the fish likes”. Straying far from this rule can lead to misunderstanding.

  1. Structure Your Sentences

The three most important parts of a sentence are the subject, the verb, and the object. According to Leith, the closer these are to the beginning of the sentence, the easier it is to understand. The more modifying clauses that come before the subject, the more difficult the sentence will be to follow. Using right-branching sentences is therefore vital for succinct, effective writing.

  1. Make it Sound Good

The most difficult thing to learn as a writer is how to craft rhythmically pleasing sentences. However, how a sentence sounds is an incredibly important aspect of good writing. The rhythm of the words impacts where emphasis will fall and how readers will consume your text. Leith advises that to achieve good rhythm, you must read your writing aloud. If you happen to falter while reading it, you may want to alter your word choice.

By LSE MSc student Perry Newsome

Sam Leith’s latest book Write to the Point (2017) is published by Profile Books

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