Michael Nielsen’s rules on editing

Michael Nielsen has a post called “Six Rules for Rewriting.” They’re good rules to keep in mind as you edit, but really they’re good principles that can be applied as you write.

These rules are as appropriate for emails as they are for longer pieces. Here they are:

  1. Every sentence should grab the reader and propel them forward.
  2. Every paragraph should contain a striking idea, originally expressed.
  3. The most significant ideas should be distilled into the most potent sentences possible.
  4. Use the strongest appropriate verb.
  5. Beware of nominalization. (Contrast the wishy-washy “I conducted an investigation of rules for rewriting” with the more direct “I investigated rules for rewriting”.)
  6. None of the above rules should be consciously applied while drafting material.

Once you’ve properly internalized the first five then you wouldn’t need to worry about #6: It’ll all be natural!

Here’s my own summary, with a little added interpretation, of the rules: Make sure that every sentence says something. A sentence is a success if the reader moves on to the next sentence; a paragraph is a success if the reader moves on to the next paragraph.