Guidelines for Good Writing

When I taught journalism at the University of Illinois, I created a Journalist’s Handbook that I required my students to purchase. I collected and revised the information contained in the  Journalist’s Handbook for almost four decades. Some of it dates back to my time as a journalism student at the University of Kansas. Some of it is information that I accumulated and consigned to a three-ring binder during a 27-year career as a reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune.

The binder accompanied me during my years as a foreign correspondent in Asia and Latin America and as a national correspondent covering the West Coast of the United States. I kept it close at hand when I was an editor. As the years passed, the binder got older and frayed (sort of like me), but that never kept me from consulting it–a humbling reminder that you will never know all there is to know about journalism, nor should you ever stop learning. My old binder was rife with coffee stains, grubby handprints, lots of barely readable hand-scribbled notes, and to top it off the pages kept falling out.

Before I created the handbook I used to pass out much of the material as handouts. I suspect many of those handouts were tossed away once my class ended. Below is one of the chapters of the handbook. Occasionally, I will post other chapters of the Handbook. Stay tuned!

Guidelines for Good Writing

  • Subject and verb always has to agree.
  • Do not use a foreign term when there is an adequate English quid pro quo. Foreign words and phrases usually are not apropos.
  • It behooves the writer to avoid archaic expressions.
  • Do not use hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it effectively.
  • Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  • Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  • Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
  • Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.
  • Consult a dictionary frequently to avoid mispelling.
  • Don’t be redundant again and again. Don’t repeat yourself or say what you have said before.
  • Remember to never split an infinitive.
  • The passive voice is to be avoided.
  • Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
  • Don’t use no double negatives.
  • Proofread carefully to see if you have any words out.
  • Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  • Never use a long word when an infinitesimal one will do.
  • Avoid colloquial stuff.
  • No sentence fragments.
  • Avoid alliteration. Always.
  • Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  • Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  • Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  • Contractions aren’t necessary.
  • One should never generalize.
  • Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  • Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  • Profanity sucks.
  • 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.
  • Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  • Who needs rhetorical questions?
  • Remember to finish what



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 “Guidelines for Good Writing”

  1. Thank you, Ron. You had me going until the fifth word. I offer an amendment to your seventh:
    — Placing an odd number of commas between subject and predicate, although tempting, , is not correct.


Leave a Comment