Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is an outspoken critic of poor academic writing. He suggests that style guides, such as Strunk & White, are more driven by the idiosyncratic views of the authors, rather than a coherent theory of language. Pinker instead suggests that we can do better, using linguistic studies, cognitive psychology research and other inputs to create a better model for effective prose.
In the lecture below, Pinker gives historical perspective (we learn that “clever” apparently means something different when used to describe a horse) and walks the viewer through his suggestions for improving prose, with many, many entertaining examples of bad habits. You’ll learn why the passive voice is actually really useful, and why it’s so common in bad writing.