In its very suggestiveness, cheese is both like and unlike many of the other foods humans cook or ferment. Whether by fire or water or the action of microbes, one of the ways humans transform the edible stuff of nature is in the direction of greater allusiveness--in taste or smell or appearance. Just as we take pleasure in enriching our language with layers of metaphor and allusion, we apparently like to trope what we eat and drink, too, extracting from it not only more nourishment but more meaning as well--more psychic nourishment, if you will. It just so happens that the more vivid, odiferous tropes that cheesemakers have teased out of milk can verge on the indecent, taking us places polite society doesn't like to go.
--from Michael Pollan's Cooked
I'm sorry to pick on Michael Pollan for two posts in a row, but his new book offers too many useful lessons on how not to write. This unfortunate paragraph offers several examples:
Using hyphens in two consecutive sentences is a sign of muddled and unclear writing.
2) Complex sentences
Layered clauses and prepositional phrases confuse and bore readers.
3) Repetitive sentence structure
Believe it or not, the first three sentences of the writing sample above share identical structure. Each begins with a poorly-written prepositional phrase:
a) In its very suggestiveness,
b) Whether by fire or water or the action of microbes, and
c) Just as we take pleasure in enriching our language with layers of metaphor and allusion,
Vary your sentences. Don't lull your readers to sleep.
4) Inexplicable comma use
When used logically, commas help readers. When used illogically, they disrupt the entire act of reading. The second sentence (Just as we take ... if you will) is an excellent example how to use commas where you shouldn't and how to not use them where you should.
5) Show-off language
Replace allusiveness and trope with less pretentious language.
6) Needless words
Cut out phrases like if you will and It just so happens that.
7) Pointless drivel/Purple prose
When grinding through passages like this, most readers have just one question: What is the author trying to say? If your readers ask this, you have failed to communicate with them.
Just one instance of writing like this can make a reader put down your book, forever. Don't do it.