My biggest writing sin

It’s time for a confession.

About something I’m guilty of quite often. Something that breaks my reader’s flow and slows down their reading experience.

Which is…


Metadiscourse is text about your text. For example:

Chapter 1 described what blue-green algae are and how blue-green algae growth occurs. This chapter deals with the risk of blue-green algae. Chapter 3 discusses ways to combat blue-green algae.

For a long time I thought, structure in your text is good. Signal words and cross references are good. Reading guides are good. Summaries are good.

Until I read Steven Pinker’s article Why Academics Stink at Writing.

Pinker argues that metadiscourse mainly helps the writer, not the reader. He compares it to directions for a shortcut that take longer to figure out than the time the shortcut would save.

Metadiscourse is a typical sin of analytic knowledge workers. You rarely come across it in a novel or during a conversation. Then it’s about the topic, not about the text.

So are you – just like me – also guilty of this writing sin?

See in your next text whether you can do without it.