On Writing 2: The Economist’s style

谈谈英文写作2:《经济学人》的写作风格

Readers are primarily interested in what you have to say. By the way in which you say it, you may encourage them either to read on or to give up.

本篇基于经济学人的“The Economist Style Guide 11th Edition 2015”(下载该书),转载介绍下经济学人推崇并应用的写作风格。

Catch the attention of the reader and then get straight into the article. Do not spend several sentences clearing your throat, setting the scene or sketching in the background. Introduce the facts as you tell the story and hold the reader by the way you unfold the tale and by a fresh but unpretentious use of language.

Articles in The Economist should be like essays, in that they have a beginning, a middle and an end. They should not be mere bits of information stitched together. Each should be a coherent whole, a series of paragraphs that follow logically in order and, ideally, will suffer if even one sentence is cut out.

It is up to you to provide the ideas, analysis and argument that bind the elements of the article together. That is the hard part. Once you have them, though, you need only plain, straightforward words to express them. Do not imagine that you can disguise the absence of thought with long words, stale metaphors or the empty jargon of academics.

第一个原则其实就是文章要有清晰的逻辑,才能吸引读者读下去。‘catch the attention’并不是说要“标题党”,固然标题也很重要,但更重要的是全文也要有吸引力。有了明确的行文思路,只需平白的词汇去表达就好,并不需要装逼的高级词。

Read through your writing several times. Edit it ruthlessly, whether by cutting or polishing or sharpening, on each occasion. Avoid repetition. Cut out anything superfluous. And resist any temptation to achieve a literary effect by making elliptical remarks or allusions to unexplained people or events. Rather, hold your reader’s attention by keeping the story moving. Unadorned, unfancy prose is usually all you need.

修改文章,但重点仍是保证文章的流畅性,去掉华丽却空洞的词汇。

Do not be stuffy. Use the language of everyday speech, not that of spokesmen, lawyers or bureaucrats (so prefer let to permit, people to persons, buy to purchase, colleague to peer, way out to exit, present to gift, rich to wealthy, show to demonstrate, break to violate). Pomposity and long-windedness tend to obscure meaning, or reveal the lack of it: strip them away in favour of plain words.

本条原则仅适用于writing for general audience,专业性的写作还是应该用专业性的词汇。

Do not be hectoring or arrogant. Those who disagree with you are not necessarily stupid or insane. The aim is not just to tell readers what you think, but to persuade them; if you use arguments, reasoning and evidence, you may succeed. Go easy on the oughts and shoulds.

谦逊是传统美德,讲道理也没必要大声吼。以及,尊重你的读者。

Do your best to be lucid. (“I see but one rule: to be clear”, Stendhal.) Simple sentences help. Keep complicated constructions and gimmicks to a minimum.

Clear thinking is the key to clear writing. “A scrupulous writer”, observed Orwell, “in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

最美的事物都是简洁的,文章的质量在于其传达的思想,而非空洞华丽的辞藻。

最后,跟着奥威尔的话,再来看下奥威尔的写作六原则:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.