Well advice on writing good

WHILE VISITING with a client last week, I noticed the following posted on the editor’s bulletin board. She was happy to share it with me…and I’m happy to share it with you.

I don’t know the source of this one. If you do, please let me know.

Good food for thought here—and it’ll give you a chuckle.


1. Avoid alliteration. Always.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

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

4. Employ the vernacular.

5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

8. Contractions aren’t necessary.

9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

10. One should never generalize.

z Ralph_Waldo_Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

12. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

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

14. Be more or less specific.

15. Understatement is always best.

16. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

18. The passive voice is to be avoided.

19. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

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

21. Who needs rhetorical questions?

22. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

Here’s a writing rule from Winston Churchill that I’ve always liked: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

How about you? Any favorite writing/grammar rules to share?


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6 responses to “Well advice on writing good

  1. Melanie Byer

    That’s a great list. I’ll have to print that out and put it on the copy desk’s board.

    I agree with Professor Fisher about when to use ‘think’ and when to use ‘believe.’ When I see something like “Police believe the suspect is hiding in the woods,” I always change it to ‘think.’ Fisher said things like that are not part of people’s belief systems. I thought that made a lot of sense. I think about that rule a lot.

  2. Dean Poling


    Hello. Enjoy the blog. But had to note that the legend behind the Churchill remark is his argument that it is better to end in a preposition rather than perform pretzeled sentence acrobatics.

    Keep up the insightful and enjoyable work.
    Dean Poling

    • Dean:

      Yes, I’m aware of Churchill’s intent when he spoke his wonderful no-preposition-ending sentence. And that’s what makes it so fun! Churchill was a master of statesmanship, leadership—and the English language. I would like to have had dinner with him!

      Thanks for your comment…and please keep watching the blog!

  3. Zog

    “10. One should never generalize.”

    Is the typo in generalise intentional?

    • Zog:

      Generalize with a “z” is U.S. English. Generalise with an “s” is English English. But…I think even the English spell it “capsize” with a “z.” And “baptize” with a “z.” Though I wouldn’t want to zwear to that, realising that I could be incorrect. I mean, there iz a chanse of my being miztaken, izn’t there?


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