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Tips for Academic Writing from Cormac McCarthy

Summary:
In 2007, Cormac McCarthy was the Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction for The Road. Little did I know that he was a fellow editor of academic writing Van Savage and Pamela Yeh provide the background in "Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper: The Pulitzer prizewinner shares his advice for pleasing readers, editors and yourself" (Nature, September 26, 2019). They note: "For the past two decades, Cormac McCarthy — whose ten novels include The Road, No Country for Old Men and Blood Meridian — has provided extensive editing to numerous faculty members and postdocs at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in New Mexico."For a sense of the incongruity here, this is the book jacket copy for The Road, via the Pulitzer website:  A father and his son walk alone through burned

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In 2007, Cormac McCarthy was the Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction for The Road. Little did I know that he was a fellow editor of academic writing Van Savage and Pamela Yeh provide the background in "Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper: The Pulitzer prizewinner shares his advice for pleasing readers, editors and yourself" (Nature, September 26, 2019). They note: "For the past two decades, Cormac McCarthy — whose ten novels include The Road, No Country for Old Men and Blood Meridian — has provided extensive editing to numerous faculty members and postdocs at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in New Mexico."

For a sense of the incongruity here, this is the book jacket copy for The Road, via the Pulitzer website: 

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food--and each other.
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
Doesn't sound exactly aligned with the cutting-edge scientific research across many fields on the themes of complexity, adaptation, and emergent properties that are emphasized at the Santa Fe Institute. But for what it's worth (and the Santa Fe Institute does have a healthy group of economists), here is how Savage and Yeh summarize are some bits of advice from McCarthy--with more bullet points at the linked article in Nature.

• Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can. ... 
• Don’t slow the reader down. Avoid footnotes because they break the flow of thoughts and send your eyes darting back and forth while your hands are turning pages or clicking on links. Try to avoid jargon, buzzwords or overly technical language. And don’t use the same word repeatedly — it’s boring. ... 
• And don’t worry too much about readers who want to find a way to argue about every tangential point and list all possible qualifications for every statement. Just enjoy writing. ... 
• Inject questions and less-formal language to break up tone and maintain a friendly feeling. Colloquial expressions can be good for this, but they shouldn’t be too narrowly tied to a region. Similarly, use a personal tone because it can help to engage a reader. Impersonal, passive text doesn’t fool anyone into thinking you’re being objective: “Earth is the centre of this Solar System” isn’t any more objective or factual than “We are at the centre of our Solar System.” ...
• After all this, send your work to the journal editors. Try not to think about the paper until the reviewers and editors come back with their own perspectives. When this happens, it’s often useful to heed Rudyard Kipling’s advice: “Trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.” Change text where useful, and where not, politely explain why you’re keeping your original formulation.
• And don’t rant to editors about the Oxford comma, the correct usage of ‘significantly’ or the choice of ‘that’ versus ‘which’. Journals set their own rules for style and sections. You won’t get exceptions.

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