Write Like Paul Graham

Deconstructing the readable writing style of Paul Graham

Paul Graham’s writing is incredibly easy to read. He has an article about how to write. It boils down to: “write as you talk because it’s easier for your readers to understand.” Probably to keep the article concise, he doesn’t explain how he does that.

Studying his essays, I have deciphered his actual method. “Write as you talk, but cut all unnecessary words and feel free to break grammatical rules and don’t use irrelevant sentences.” Here are some practical actions for writing like you talk.

Don’t use fillers

A typical conversation is packed with filler words. Lots of “very’s” and “actually’s” and “lots’s”. There aren’t any filler words in Paul’s writing. His conversations are obviously more succinct than mine.

Have absolute opinions

Words like “seem” are opinion words. “It seems (in my opinion) that his conversations are more succinct than mine”. We use them so that we don’t alienate our readers if they disagree. Paul doesn’t use opinion words. He uses “I” to convey that he is expressing an opinion. But the words he uses to express his opinion are absolute.

Start with And

He doesn’t mind starting a sentence with “And” or “But”. At school, they teach you that these are conjunctions and you should never use them at the start of a sentence. Paul does it anyway.

Use small paragraphs

Look at the length of his paragraphs. Each one is no more than five sentences. Anything more than that will cause fatigue.

Use smaller paragraphs

When he wants to make a point, he’ll write a standalone sentence.

“Informal language is the athletic clothing of ideas.”

Careful Paul, that’s almost poetic!

Don’t have anything to prove

See that exclamation mark in my previous sentence? Good luck finding one on Paul’s blog. He doesn’t use them because that’s not his tone of voice. An exclamation mark is like sentence-clickbait. Paul doesn’t do clickbait. Check his URLs, he doesn’t even optimise for Google. Paul doesn’t need to convince anyone of anything.

Ask questions

When you’re having a conversation, do you ask questions and then answer them yourself? Of course not, that’s pretentious. But you’ll find it in Paul’s writing because it’s a great way to avoid monotonous paragraphs, with 5 sentences of full-stops.

Conjunctions

He doesn’t mind an apostrophe too. Because that’s how people talk.