Clear and Simple as the Truth

Clear and Simple as the truth is a branch non-fiction book in the area of writing. Written by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner it describes the classic writing style which is a “stand” on the way to write. The stand on style is not a usage manual (Strunk and White) for English. Rather than it set of simple rules.

    1. Writing proceeds from thinking.
    1. Classical style is the presentation of the truth. The presentation is successful when the language is aligned with the truth. This alignment is defined clarity and simplicity.
    1. Writing is not a set of skills, it is an intellectual activity. Intellectual activities develop skills, but skills do not develop an intellectual activity.
    1. Style is not separate or opposed to substance.
    1. You must recognize your unconscious styles (the inherent voice) or you will be trapped by them.
    1. Sentences have a clear direction and goal. The preceding sentences inform the concluding sentences. There should be a logical and natural ordering.
    1. The language of truth is graceful speech, classical style should appear effortless to write.
    1. Classic style expands upon plain style, it refines, qualifies and meditates upon it.

    Consider the gradient between plain style and classic style. “The truth is pure and simple” is plain style. “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple” is classic style.

    1. Elements are generalized ideas from which details follow
    1. Style follows from a set of fundamental decisions, not a catalog of surface features or arbitrary decisions for consistent copy
    1. Five Topical headings/elements: truth, presentation, scene, cast, thought and language


    1. Roots in Descartes: “Assimilating intellectual experience to the order of reason is a matter of course in classic style”
    1. Classic style treats objects, facts, and even opions as beyond doubt of discussion, it is not trying to persuade, just present
    1. Truth can be known and it is universal.
    1. Truth is not subject to point of view and therefore it is external and verifable.
    1. Truth is the motive for writing, recognizing it links the writer and reader


    1. Writing presents a subject at its best, it is a window with perfect clarity
    1. Perfect Performance -> writing feels inevitable and does not hedge.
    1. Simplify subordinate details. Nuance and detail do not need to be everywhere.


    1. Model scene is a conversation between two individuals (the writer and the audience)
    1. Because the scene is a conversation, the writer does not use global organizational phrases (“we shall see”, “before I move on to my next point”). This is called metadiscourse.
    1. “classic style thus requires a strong revelation of personality even as it subordinates what is merely personal”
    1. Classic prose is infused with spontaneity, as though it just occurred to the speaker to say something
    1. CS is efficient but not rushed
    1. CS is energetic but not anxious


    1. Participation in the truth is equally available
    1. The reader is competent and does not require special pleading, they will participate in viewing the truth in the same way the author does
    1. The writer is authentic and stands behind what they say because they have thought it out independently
    1. The writer wants nothing from the reader besides their perception of truth
    1. The writer is confident
      1. There is no point in hedging or trying to remove the readers doubts. How do you prove to them that you are not fallible?
    1. The writer does the work of organizing the details and formulating the thought beforehand. In contrast, they do not lay out the details and leave the conclusion to the reader to work out

Thought and Language

    1. Writing is an instrument for presenting what the author hash already thougght. It is not a way of thinking something out.
    1. CS always implies value in what it presents: it is independently intelligible and important
    1. There is no distinction between an abstraction and something concrete
    1. Thought precedes speech. Writing is not thinking on paper.
    1. “In classic style, thinking is seeing, or more generally, recognizing; writing is presenting what the the writer has seen so the reader can see it to”
    1. The language can present everything knowable. It is also possible to find a perfect fit between expression and thought
    1. “Classic style avoids colloquialisms, neologisms, periphrases, and slang because it does not need them: the language is sufficient without them. New thoughts do not require new language.”
    1. Two ways of fitting thought and language in CS: lexical (expressions in the language) and structural (the languages makes an image of his thought)
    1. Thought comes with a structure and direction. In CS, this structure is based upon a basic Image Schema or some amalgam of multiple image schemas.
  • 68: Thought and language alignment can fail when a sentence is written that cannot be grasped by any iamge schema, a sentence has an image schema but fails to fufill it, or the image schema chosen for sentence does not match the thought.
    1. The stress position whatever is at the end of the sentence is perceived as the most important
    1. In short, A new truth will be expressed in old words structured in a familiar form

Other Styles

    1. Classic Style is just one of many styles. Many positive styles also have a deformed double, for example bloated style comes from trying to outdo the sublime
    1. Styles have surface marks but they are not defined by their surface marks. Styles do not prescribe these marks, but they can explain them.

Sublime Style

    1. As documented in Loginus’s On the sublime, the sublime style differs from CS:
    • model scene is to transport the audience out of itself
    • cast is an assymetric relationship where writer is genius and elevated above the reader

Plain Style

  • 76-77.Plain style believes the truth is always simple and therefore commonly accessible. The Truth may “come from the mouth of babes”. This differs from CS where the truth must be worked at and participation is aristocratic not egalatarian.
    1. Plain style values simplicity and shuns nuance. CS values both.

Reflexive Style

  • 78-81 Reflexive style ponders its own existence and questions its competence. Classic style makes unhedged assertions.

Practical Style

    1. Model is a problem to solve or action to take. The need is with the reader, not the writer’s desire to ariculate something
    • Reading is not the point, solving the problem is the point. Therefore, practical style values parsability.
    1. Both CS and practical value clarity and directness
    1. Cast is hierarchial in practical, the knower (writer) conveys to the person who wants to know (reader)
      1. Amusingly, most school writing gives a pervision of this dynamic where the person who knows much more is reading (the teacher) and the person who is writing the essay knows much less (student).
  • adumbration: a shadow or faint image of something; a foreshadowing of or precursor of something; concealment or overshadowing
    1. The last-third test: “once you have progressed a little way into a piece of writing, block out the last third of each sentence as you come to it, and imagine the standard things you might expect to occupy that position, based on what you have already read. If what in fact does occupy that position is routinely one of those standard and expected things, then the piece may be a paragon of practical writing but is unlikely to be classic.” Classic will not place something incorrect there, but it will avoid the cliché one might expect.

Contemplative style

    1. In Contemplative style, the writer sees something, presents it to the reader and then interperts something. In contrast, classic style presents the thing itself without the interperation.
    1. Contemplative style writing is the engine of discovery, it is a record of the thinking rather than classic style’s presentation of previous thoughts.


    1. Romantic prose is always about the writer. It is not a window, it is a mirror.
  • 92-93. Romantic style is views writing as an act of creation that both comes from the self and reveals the self. It depends on the writer for existence.
    • Classic writing never presents somethign that is merely personal, it must illustrate a more general
    1. Classic and Romantic are the furthest apart styles


  • 95-97 Classic style cannot be prophetic style because the reader cannot be transported to the writer. The writer claims to be an outlet for supreme authority, a channel for an otherwise inaccessible truth


    1. Oratorical is not spontaneous or casual. It is engineered, with an audience gathering to face a public problem
    1. The orator is the leader and is not an equal to the audience. The orator often wants something from the audience and is interested (i.e. not dispassionate about the matter at hand).

Trade Secrets

  • p105. Classic style’s principal limitations. Classic Style does not acknowledge things that cannot be expressed briefly and memorably. CS also claims universal applicability. However, as shown in mathematics there must be things that are not expressible in this fashion.
    1. Ultimate incoherence of it’s theoretical model. Classic Style holds a conception of truth that is mind independent, i.e. a version of truth that can be preceived perfectly, a “God’s eye”. However, no such god’s eye view exists. Therefore there are two qualifications to this concept of truth:
    2. no writer can maintain for long the discipline to transcend personal interests and situations
    3. There is no way to known truth independent of through, all conceptions of truth are conceptions or concepts.
  • Copy theory: what is true corresponds to mind independent facts.
  • The rub is that we cannot construct a mind independent reality in which to verify that truth presented in language is the same.