Like Cronon, Sword believes stylish writers tell compelling stories, avoid jargon, provide the reader with “aesthetic and intellectual pleasure,” and write with “originality, imagination, and creative flair.” She surveys stylish writing and notices extensive use of first-person anecdotes, catchy openings, concrete nouns (as opposed to nominalized abstractions), active verbs (eschewing forms of that bugger, “to be”), lots of examples, good illustrations, references that show broad reading, and a sense of humor.
Don’t think I’m going to take writing advice from someone who uses the phrases “big old brains” or “jiggy stylist,” thanks. More importantly, though, the idea that there is such a thing as “good writing,” free of context, is pernicious. “Good writing” is writing that accomplishes its purpose, and if you are an academic whose purpose is to discuss abstractions, avoiding abstract language may be obfuscatory, not clear. Not everything should read like a New Yorker essay (in fact, the New Yorker is a great illustration of Adorno’s point about the way good writing impedes thinking).