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Some of my writing principles

Ben Halpern
A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.
・1 min read
  • The first sentence, first paragraph are the most important. Don't bury the lede!
  • The next most important thing is the last paragraph.
  • Keep middle points well defined, ideally with descriptive headers.
  • Don't try to broaden so it's relevant for "everyone". Writing for one person is the best.
  • 85% perfect is way better than 100% perfect. You'll get diminishing returns.
  • Re-read and remove unnecessary words/sentences, especially superfluous words like "very".
  • Expect people to skim. Think about the "shape", e.g. squint test.
  • Fleshing out a sloppy draft at night and then refining in the morning is a great pattern for me.
  • Don't use a clever/cryptic title. Be descriptive!

Some of this stuff is probably inline with how they teach essay writing, but I can't remember any of those lessons from school.

This post took about 60 seconds to jot down and 60 seconds to review. I think it will be useful to a lot of folks. It's probably not perfect, but you don't need to spend hours to create useful work.

Happy writing!

Discussion (30)

deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy

Great note about skimming (and great notes in general) - break up your paragraphs with code blocks. People glaze over on too much text at once or too much code at once, it's worth it to take the time to streamline both to get to your point.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

I think people will often skim before they go deep. And if the skim is not successful, they'll move on.

We're busy internet folks and we don't want to approach everything linearly. Writing is actually unique in its capacity to be "random access" as opposed to audio/video which is way harder to skim for meaning.

jackharner profile image
Jack Harner 🚀

I think people will often skim before they go deep.

I do this All. The. Time. Especially with tutorials.

"Does this tutorial solve the problem I'm trying to solve"

*Quick Scroll Through*

"Ok cool, it does"

*Back up to the top to go through it again*

deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy

I think this is part of why "list" type articles tend to do well - you can skim to a point that particularly interests you. You've got a roadmap through the post at a glance.

I know at least personally even the articles I do end up taking my time with and reading carefully were all skimmed first.

graciano profile image
graciano codes

Re-read and remove unnecessary words/sentences, especially superfluous words like "very".

There's a brazillian writer that I love, Graciliano Ramos (the name is kind of like mine), that almost never uses adjectives, so his descriptions feels more acurate and less based on opinion.

desi profile image

Does this mean that you're working on that blog post you're procrastinating on? ;)

ulitroyo profile image
Uli Troyo

Ha! Called out! 😛

ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

This was the post I was procrastinating on...

I really wanted to write it, but because they were sponsors I really wanted to make sure it was being objective and wasn't injecting bias. I also wanted to make it clear that Heroku isn't better than alternatives, just a good choice if you care about such and such.

I think I ultimately hit on the right points 😄

Thread Thread
desi profile image

Ahhhhh, very good! Glad it got done and I think you took an objective tone and got the point across!

Thread Thread
ulitroyo profile image
Uli Troyo

Ha, here we thought Ben was slackin'—instead he's overachievin', posting an extra thing.

lukegarrigan profile image
Luke Garrigan

"Fleshing out a sloppy draft at night and then refining in the morning is a great pattern for me." I love this, I'm going to try tomorrow and then refine it on Saturday, if my blog is shoddy I'm blaming you 😃

mateerleen profile image
Mateerleen • Edited

Thank you for sharing your writing principles, I`m sure they will be helpful for many students! I was always wondering, how people can write their essays so quickly and so easily. I prefer using professional writing help, when I have a writing assignment. I read reviews on, and found a few really professional services, which can write any academic paper on time, and due to the reviews, their customers are fully satisfied with the quality of their work.

paulasantamaria profile image
Paula Santamaría

Thanks for this Ben, I usually spend a lot of time formatting my posts just going up and down trying to made them "feel" better without any sort of guide. I'm sure this is going to save me a lot of time!

selik_sasha profile image

Very good writing principles! When i was younger i did a little amount of free time. When i were need to write an essay about MBA assignment i realised that i don't have enough time after that i found - they were my rescuers. After their help i had enough time for my friends or hobbies.

vintharas profile image
Jaime 🔥🧙‍♂️🔥

Thank you for demonstrating sharing valuable advice in short format!

I often procrastinate, or pause/stop working on articles because they become huge behemoths and I just don't have the energy or will to confront them 😁

Mental note: more short-form articles!!! 💪

daedtech profile image
Erik Dietrich

"Don't use a clever/cryptic title. Be descriptive!"

It took me about 7 years of blogging before I figured out that my subtle literary references in my titles were basically just inside jokes with myself.

denishowe profile image
Denis Howe

Great article.

It bothers me that some people who think their writing deserves to be read don't bother to, or can't, write properly.

I was taught that the first section tells the reader why they should read the rest and the last section tells them what they should remember.

If you find yourself using "scare quotes" to indicate that you don't actually mean what you're saying literally, there's probably a better way to phrase it.

While "inline" is a common term in computing (meaning inserted in the main flow rather than referred to), I think you mean "in line with", (meaning consistent with).

Thanks and keep up the good work!

v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡 • Edited

Don't try to broaden so it's relevant for "everyone". Writing for one person is the best.

Yep. My brothers often forget this. Perhaps it's because I sometimes end up being that one person.

This might be implicit for a collaborative guy like Mr. Halpern, but don't forget to at least try to rope a human editor into this!

It's not just Python that benefits from review. English does too.

amaurydiallo profile image
Amadou Oury Diallo

Thanks sir for sharing this !

dalmo profile image
Dalmo Mendonça

Tbh I'm impressed with the 60s thing. It took me more time than that just to read the post. And probably more than that to write this comment, too.

stefandorresteijn profile image
Stefan Dorresteijn

I agree on all but the last item, I like creative, clever titles. They make me more interested in reading a post.

kayis profile image

Grammarly helped me very much with writing style and removing words.

adikwok profile image

how to structure the write?
i got things on my mind, but dont know
where to start

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴

Great first sentence:)

lauracfields profile image
Laura Fields • Edited

Hi there,
Thank you so much for the nice note.
My main technique is to write without waiting for inspiration. Pick a topic, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and write. If you have problems with the topic, open any book on page 17 and find line 6. This will be your theme.
As time goes on, it is important not to hesitate. Let your thoughts rush at the speed of a hound. Write with a sense of urgency. Also, feel free to use the top essay writing services here and get quality writing support. It seems to me that it is very important to have the support of opinion leaders.