Style Exercise

There is much to be learned about writing with style and elegance. An excellent system to follow is Shani Raja’s 9-Step Editing System when trying to trim down your writing. Have a look at the video below.

His 9 steps are:

  1. Quick read-through
  2. Separate the points
  3. Make it make sense
  4. Delete the nonessential
  5. Make each point unique
  6. Create sections
  7. Make the sections flow
  8. Put points into sections
  9. Make it read well (simple, clear, and elegant)

What you should definitely avoid in writing your CHI paper are the following things:

  • Minimize passive voice. Yes, CHI likes when you say “we” and actively describe what your research team has done.
  • Find a rhythm to your writing. Avoid sentences that are too long. You should try and alternate your sentence length in your writing.
  • Reduce jargon. Yes, HCI is an interdisciplinary field, but there is still lots of jargon that is used across disciplines and stick out but not using cutting-edge vocabulary.
  • Reduce words that do not contribute to the meaning of a sentence. Be clear and be brief in what you say. Delete adverbs whenever possible.

Next, I would recommend reading the essay: Why Academics’ Writing Stinks from Steven Pinker. He points to a couple of examples from the bad writing contest, let’s examine some examples below.

Identify Bad Writing

Consider the following sentence and try understand its meaning:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

A Gary Provost Quote on Good Writing

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage them with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums. The crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”