Writing for a General Audience

The two best pieces of advice I got about writing came many years apart.  When I was a JD/PhD student Professor (now Judge) John Wiley told me: “Write. Write a lot. But don’t write crap.”  This was advice for breaking into the academic market.

Many years later I was talking to David Pervin, then an editor at the University of Chicago Press (now at Oxford), about a book proposal for what became The Voting Wars.  The book was originally entitled “Election Administration Wars: Causes, Consequences and Cures in the Internet Era.”  David’s advice: “Why don’t you write a book people will actually read?”  That advice completely changed the nature of my book, and my writing generally. It was such a pleasure to write The Voting Wars in a conversational style, and I’m writing my new campaign finance book for Yale using the same style.

I was reminded of this when I saw Emily Bazelon link to The Jargon Trap by David Tuller at NYT’s Opinionator Blog. It is full of terrific advice on writing for a general audience. It is very much in line with Emily’s editing style. She is relentless in seeking clarity and eschewing obfuscation.

Emily and Dahlia Lithwick also had a terrific dialogue about writing for Slate, behind the Slate Plus paywall. (You can sign up for a two week trial, and then, as I did, fork over the $50 for some excellent additional content.)

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