Skip to content

How to write good (part one)

01/08/2012

William Safire, who died in 2009, was an American columnist, journalist and presidential speechwriter. He won the Pulitzer Prize and the Medal of Freedom. In two classic New York Times columns in October and November 1979, he laid down his rules for writers, which he developed later into a  book, Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage. Demonstrating that syntax can be fun and funny, his principal rules are:

  1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  2. A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.
  3. The passive voice should never be used.
  4. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  5. Don’t use no double negatives.
  6. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.
  7. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.
  8. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  9. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  10. No sentence fragments.
  11. Poofread carefully to see if you words out.
  12. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
  13. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  14. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  15. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
  16. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
  17. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  18. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  19. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
  20. Write all adverbial forms correct.
  21. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.
  22. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  23. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
  24. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  25. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
  26. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  27. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  28. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  29. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  30. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
  31. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  32. Don’t string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
  33. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  34. “Avoid overuse of ‘quotation “marks.”‘”
  35. The adverb always follows the verb.
  36. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; They’re old hat; seek viable alternatives.

Edit: What a bitter irony that, on the day that I highlight writing style from a US perspective, we hear of the death of Gore Vidal, full of years at the age of 86. Tim Stanley writes that, without him, “civilisation is a little less civilised”. He was a fearless and funny, acute and aphoristic, wicked and witty, growling and gritty writer of precise and beautiful English. Forget the trash like Myra Breckinridge; the historical novels (such as Burr, Lincoln and 1876) are excellent. His legacy of exquisitely-phrased and analytically contrarian essays (such as his Vanity Fair piece about Timothy McVeigh), if nothing else he wrote, will be valued forever.

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: