50 Tips on How to Write Good (Ahem)

As promised Saturday, here is another handout I used to give to my students when I was teaching journalism at the University of Illinois. I hope you find it useful. The contents of this post are an alphabetical arrangement of two lists that have been circulating among writers and editors for many years. In case you have missed out all this time, I’m sharing here the wit and wisdom of the late New York Times language maven William Safire and advertising executive and copywriter Frank LaPosta Visco.

1. A writer must not shift your point of view.
2. Always pick on the correct idiom.
3. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
4. Always be sure to finish what
5. Avoid alliteration. Always.
6. Avoid archaec spellings.
7. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
8. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
9. Be more or less specific.
10. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
11. Contractions aren’t necessary.
12. Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.
13. Don’t indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
14. Don’t never use no double negatives.
15. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
16. Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
17. Don’t use commas, that, are not, necessary.
18. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
19. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
20. Employ the vernacular.
21. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
22. Eschew obfuscation.
23. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

24. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
25. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
26. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
28. Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
29. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
30. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
31. It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
32. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
33. Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.
34. No sentence fragments.
35. One should never generalize.
36. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
37. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
38. Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.

39. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.
40. Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
41. Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.
42. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
43. Profanity sucks.
44. Subject and verb always has to agree.
45. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
46. The adverb always follows the verb.
47. The passive voice is to be avoided.
48. Understatement is always best.
49. Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
50. Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers.
51. Who needs rhetorical questions?
52. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

Oh, and let me add one tip: If your article consists of a list and the title refers to the number of items in the list, count the number of items in the list carefully. Hmmm. Did I forget something?

About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here

2 thoughts on “50 Tips on How to Write Good (Ahem)”

  1. William Safire was one of the last of the excellent writers at the NY Times. Willing to admit a mistake, he wrote a special column of apology for calling Hillary a “congenital liar.” Admitting he never knew her parents, he changed his description to “pathological liar.”


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