Book Review: The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

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Sense of style book

When I received The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker as a birthday present, I assumed it was going to be a book about, well, style. I was right, but instead of fashion, this book talks about a different kind of style that’s just as important for college girls (or, I would argue, anyone) – writing style.

For those of you sitting here thinking, “But I’m not the next Jane Austen! How does this book relate to me?” I ask you to trust me on this one. If you’re not an aspiring novelist, the good news is that this book focuses on nonfiction writing.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re not an English or journalism major. No matter what you study in school, chances are you’ll be writing at least a few papers for different classes. Plus, after college there’s grad school applications, resumes, cover letters, and maybe even your own website or blog, and all of these require a strong grasp of how to structure a sentence and get your point across in a clear, concise mannerThe Sense of Style can help you do that!

But if you’re picturing a stuffy old manual filled with rules on what not to do when writing, think again. Steven Pinker (who is a cognitive scientist in addition to being a writer) specifically labels his book as “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century!” He’s a guy who completely understands our generation and has styled his book in a way that addresses not just basic writing concerns, but the problems our generation specifically faces when writing.

  • He totally gets that our generation is filled with thinkers and challengers – instead of blindly following rules laid out before us, our generation wants to know why these rules exist to begin with. Pinker offers writing suggestions along with reasons why these tips work, instead of throwing a ton of rules forward and expecting us to follow them.
  • He addresses the fact that most adults today seem overly concerned with text message lingo (like we’re really going to throw OMGs and LOLs into our research papers). Instead of mocking college students for their manipulation of language, Pinker sees the Internet and its effect on language as a positive thing, which it totally is! It’s nice to have an adult on your side for once (since we’ve all had that one professor who fears students will actually put emojis into scholarly papers).
  • He addresses the fact that websites and blogs are just as important to our generation as newspapers and magazines were to generations of the past. Instead of passing the Internet off as a passing fad, Pinker understands that it is here to stay and that it’s important for our generation to learn how to write for these new and growing forms of media.

Between the fun comics and helpful visual aids in this book, Pinker avoids making this a stuffy rule book and instead makes you feel like you’re having a conversation with someone who knows a lot about writing. Whatever your major is or whatever you plan to do after college, I think all college students can totally benefit from a glance at The Sense of Style.


Do you struggle with your writing, or just want to improve it? Would you pick up this book for some helpful advice? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker”

  1. great article. put it on my READ list. thanks for the heads up.

    Vince, author of the short Last Will and Testicle; among many others.


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