Is this a bit off-topic for us? No, since I’m aware that many of our readers are students, teachers, researchers, and the like. Simon Peyton Jones of Microsoft Research delivers a fantastic lecture on how to write a research paper that could be easily adapted as “How to Write a Great Book,” or maybe even a great blog post.
From the abstract for his discussion:
Seven simple suggestions: don’t wait — write, identify your key idea, tell a story, nail your contributions, put related work at the end, put your readers first, listen to your readers.
Some of these are things that as an editor I’ve been telling writers for years, especially the point about how, whether in a book or an article, ultimately YOU ONLY GET TO SAY ONE THING. Or as he calls it, a “ping.” Not two, three or four. If you have four ideas to convey, write four books, four blog posts, four research papers, etc.
Also, the idea comes first, followed by the writing, followed by the research.
However, he leaves out these two rules of thumb: Anything can be written at any length. And: With art and sympathy, anything can be explained to anyone.
I’m now on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.
A brief biography, suitable for seminar announcements and suchlike
Simon Peyton Jones, FRS, graduated from Trinity College Cambridge in 1980. After two years in industry, he spent seven years as a lecturer at University College London, and nine years as a professor at Glasgow University, before moving to Microsoft Research (Cambridge) in 1998.
Simon’s main research interest is in functional programming languages, their implementation, and their application. He was a key contributor to the design of the now-standard functional language Haskell, and is the lead designer of the widely-used Glasgow Haskell Compiler (GHC). He has written two textbooks about the implementation of functional languages. He is particularly motivated by direct application of principled theory to practical language design and implementation — that is one reason he loves functional programming so much.
Simon is chair of Computing at School, the grass-roots organisation that was at the epicentre of the 2014 reform of the English computing curriculum.