Contrarian Writing Advice - LessWrong


Daniel Kokotajlo points out that I write in ways that directly contradict standard writing advice.

Importance > Truth

Most writing revolves around whether x is true. My writing revolves around whether x is important. If x is unimportant then you should not bother writing whether x is true.

What you think about is more important than what you think. Most writing implies "we should talk about x". My writing often implies "we should not talk about x".

Clean logical chains

A single logical argument is sufficient to prove the truth value of a statement. Additional arguments are redundant. If I want to prove something is true then I write my best argument and stop. This maximizes cruxiness.

Cruxiness is a weakness a debate, which is why you don't see it in persuasive writing. Debates are dirty. A clean argument has nothing left to take away.

Write for an intelligent audience

No matter how carefully I write, there is always a chance someone will misinterpret it. When I spell things out so clearly only an idiot could misinterpret my words, the comments get worse because idiots misinterpret my words. On the other hand, when I fill my writing with differential equations, the only people with anything stupid to say are mathematicians and physics PhDs because they are the only ones confident enough to say anything at all. A lower bound is established.

There is a principle of marketing where you don't want to advertise your products to people who won't like them because then people will complain about you which is bad. Dumb people are less likely to misunderstand my complicated ideas when I abstain from dumbing them down.

Few Quotes

If I quote George Orwell then I imply that I couldn't come up with anything better to write than George Orwell. The reader should just read George Orwell instead.

Another reason to use quotes is to pass the buck. You can borrow authority on startups by quoting the expert Paul Graham. It's better to be an expert yourself. Einstein didn't need to quote Newton when he wrote about relativity.

Quotes are useful when they encapsulate someone else's large body of work. Such a reference functions like a DLL (dynamic link library).


The human brain is an opaque mass of connections. You cannot fully insulate the lies you tell from your model of reality. Persuasion is like lying. Pandering to others gunks up your internal model of reality.

I write to discover and explain. I do not write to persuade.