Mastering Style: The Learning and Teaching of Writing
The Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT), in collaboration with the Harvard Writers at Work Lecture Series, welcomed Professor Steven Pinker and Visiting Professor Jill Abramson on December 9th, 2014 in a talk at Harvard titled, "Mastering Style: The Learning and Teaching of Writing." The discussion, inspired by the recent publication of Professor Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, was focused on the teaching and learning of writing, associated challenges, and practical recommendations.
The starting point of effective writing, Pinker shared, is for the author to determine a mental model of the communication scenario between the writer and the reader. Pinker shared the “classic style” theory of interpreting writer/reader communication from literary scholars Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner. Classic style aims to help the reader see objective reality, which can be accomplished by focusing on the thing being shown and not on the activity of studying it, as well as by avoiding clichés and “metaconcepts” (concepts about concepts), among other recommendations. Academic writing, in contrast, is frequently written in postmodern or self-conscious style, one that includes apologizing and hedging.