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How to Write Real Good

Twice in the past week I have been reminded of what I'm posting today. First, a colleague tweeted a link to a blog post by Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. In this post he says, "Good grammar is credibility ... I hire people who care about those details." Then later in the week, a German student of mine from the last millennium tagged me on Facebook with a picture of the first part of one of the things I'm posting today, saying it reminded him of something I would come up with.

I e-mailed something similar in my pre-blog days. After finding it in the archives and doing some research, I'm ready to post it with some attribution. There are so many versions of these lists on the Internet that it was hard to determine who wrote what. I believe the first set of rules was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers' Digest. I think the second set of rules is derived from the late William Safire's October 7, 1979, and November 4, 1979, On Language columns in The New York Times and/or from Safire's book, Fumblerules: A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage.

In both lists, each of the rules is self-contradictory — they've been dubbed "the rules that break themselves." I've culled out my favorites to share with you.

How to Write Good
Frank LaPosta Visco

My several years in the word game have learnt me several rules:

Avoid alliteration. Always.

Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)

Employ the vernacular.

Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

Contractions aren’t necessary.

Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

Be more or less specific.

Understatement is always best.

Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

One word sentences? Eliminate.

Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

The passive voice is to be avoided.

Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

Who needs rhetorical questions?


Rules for Writers
William Safire

Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.

It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.

Avoid archaeic spellings too.

Don't use commas, that, are not, necessary.

Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.

Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.

Subject and verb always has to agree.

Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.

Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.

Don't never use no double negatives.

Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

Eschew obfuscation.

No sentence fragments.

And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

Don't indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.

A writer must not shift your point of view.

Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!

Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

Hyphenate between sy-
llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.

Always pick on the correct idiom.

The adverb always follows the verb.

And always be sure to finish what


I hope this post has reminded you of some things your English and language teachers have tried to teach you. As we begin our teachers' meetings next week, I look forward to my 40th year of helping people become better communicators. 40 years?! Can this really be happening?! This can mean only one thing — some of my former students are getting older. Several have turned 55 recently.... 🙂


Heard by one of my readers in a recent meeting: "Too much information is never enough." — anonymous

=^..^= =^..^=

I'm a recovering people pleaser. (Is that okay?)

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4 Comments on “How to Write Real Good”

  1. #1 Nancy
    on Aug 8th, 2012 at 11:34 am

    When all you can do is comfort the underwhelming writers in your life, just say in dulcet tones, “There, their, they’re.” It’s probably the best you can do.

  2. #2 Karen M.
    on Aug 8th, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    These are hilarious! I teach expository, research and fiction writing to high school students. I’m going to hand these to them for fun. Well, it’ll be fun if they “get” them. Thanks for the good laugh today.

  3. #3 Vikki
    on Aug 8th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    This’ll be a great help for me daughter – I’m just about to start learnin her kids there English. And her dont not wanna be learnin em nothin rong

  4. #4 b.j.
    on Aug 9th, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Ha ha! Sadly, not many people around here would see the humor in this post. Or even in Vikki’s comment! 🙂