I come from an academic background. Writing has always been an easy thing to me, but almost all of my practice outside of poetry has been in academic writing.

I'll find myself writing in the way that I think, with all of the hedges for the sake of completeness, and realize that what I've written would be very understandable, but would not give you the impression that I'm talking to you.

Perhaps I'm giving myself a harder time than I need to, but I feel that it is a worthy rebuke of my writing.

Edit: I write philosophical non-fiction papers on all sorts of things like religion, culture, politics, etc.

  • What are you trying to write? Fiction? Advertisements? A letter? Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 0:12
  • @Galastel I should have specified that I write non-fiction in my field of philosophy. I'll correct it in the edit
    – Sermo
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 0:13
  • See Pratchett's "The Science of Discworld" series, which is largly about the science (and history and history of science) of earth. Academically it's pretty beefy, but the whole thing comes across as a being very conversational, almost a well orchestrated ramble.
    – alan2here
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 0:33

3 Answers 3


Clarity in communication is the goal, which you say you achieve. As long as your works are easily understood by your target audience, you should be fine.

If you wish to make your work appeal to a wider audience than those who usually read philosophical works, Cyn has good advice. Reading it aloud will expose any unnatural or stilted sections and make them easier to adapt.

Precision of language is vital in philosophy.

People tend to speak - and write - differently depending on the audience they wish to reach. A person can speak to a colleague as a peer, using jargon and expecting comprehension, but would address a stranger differently. Our diction changes with our needs, becoming more general as our net widens.

Be aware of the audience you wish to reach and see what effect that has on your style. Do you wish to reach a large readership who might never have given philosophy much thought and ease them into the fold? Is your work intended for the more or less initiated?

One exercise you can try is to imagine a friend of yours who is unfamiliar with the field and that you are writing for that one person.

  • 1
    +1 for precision being vital in philosophy (and in any science too). They should make t-shirts and billboards with this universal truth.
    – NofP
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 13:47

Get thee to a writer's group!

Find yourself a group that meets in person (or by video or phone, if you must). Where you take turns reading your work out loud to each other.

If that doesn't come together, find friends or family willing to be your audience.

Still can't swing it? read the work out loud to yourself.

The very act of reading out loud will expose anything stilted or off. This goes a long way, even if no one else hears it.

The act of reading to someone and getting feedback will tell you if your efforts to pull the reader/audience in are working.

It's not perfect. Sometimes things work well in print but not out loud. And sometimes things sound great out loud but just don't come together in print. This is a technique that's essential for dialogue, but also works for a wide variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction.


Balance between precision and simplicity

That may be suggesting a cardinal sin in philosophical writing, but I'm hopeful you will understand, because you said something about writing poetry.

In the same way that metre and rhyming in poetry forces you to have a more complex relationship with natural grammar than you might otherwise have, just so, a "conversational tone", or any other improvement to textual digestibility, will necessarily have an impact on how you present your arguments.

As an exercise, try taking a page of your writing, with all of your "hedging" and context and examples. (You illustrate with examples, right?) Now try writing the same thing in a quarter of a page or less. And keep the illustrative examples. Something has to be left out, or at least folded in more tightly. Good poetry sounds more natural after a great deal of folding and polishing of the thoughts and language; this is true of other writing as well.

As a natural windbag and hedger, I've had a front row seat observing how people get lost in my digressions into qualifying what I'm trying to say. More words can actually communicate less, if you can't hold someone's attention.

I'm not saying that all digressions are bad; "color", and organic presentation, and circling back to tie things together, are all wonderful and persuasive techniques in writing. It can even be good to imagine a person who you're explaining something to - and to write down your arguments or points as if you were walking that particular person through your reasoning. (That might even be the real answer you're looking for.) But remember that, unlike your imaginary audience, a real audience will have a limited amount of patience as they're waiting for you to get to the point. Make sure your writing is clear and simple enough, and gets to a point.

  • Philosophy rarely digresses - it explicates
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 16:23
  • "Philosophy" never writes things; only people do, and people often digress.
    – Jedediah
    Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 16:35

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