50 Tips on How to Write Good

By Mark Nichol

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 archaeic 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.

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43 Responses to “50 Tips on How to Write Good”

  • venqax

    Also, funnily enough, you should never use non-existent words, irregardless of whether you’re in agreeance with them or not.

  • Kristina Bjoran

    Some of these comments make me sincerely question average reading comprehension levels.

    It reminds me of those trickster quizzes in elementary school. The teacher urges all students to read the directions of a 10-question quiz. The directions explain to read all the questions first. Students reach the end. Question 10 says: “Do not answer any of these questions.” Everyone’s annoyed because no one paid any attention.

    Not the perfect analogy, but it feels like a similar essence.

    Fantastic post! It just goes to show that when you know the rules, you can break them for effect. Great stuff.

  • Alan

    I am sure all that criticised were too polite to note you had, despite the title, 52 points. The last paragraph said it all – well (good) done!

  • Danielle

    It seems as though a lot of people have no sense of humor here. He writes an article on “How to Write Good.” YES, the title is WRONG, but did you guys not read the list? Almost every number has the mistake in the sentence that he is talking about. The title is going with the humor of the pieces. Come on guys… Lighten up a bit here.

  • Aden Nichols

    I can’t believe how many of y’all missed the joke, LOL! ;-).

    Writer’s First Commandment: Know Thy Reader. Writer’s Second Commandment: Write For Thy Reader.

    I blogged about this today: http://blog.adennichols.com/reference/you-cant-please-everyone/

  • Carole

    In reading the comments, I’m amazed by the number of people who demonstrated their clear inability to read with comprehension. Personally, I thought it was one of the best columns you’ve ever written. Clever stuff. OTOH, maybe it was just a test to weed out the idiots, or to identify the sanctimonious types whose only goal is to zip through your posts, not to read the content, but to smugly point out any errors you may make.

  • Lena

    That’s one great list and I can’t stop LOLing at the comments 😀

  • Ron

    A job well done. You are a good writer, or is that a well writer.

    A little humor with a long list is well taken.

    Thanks for all your great posts. I’m amazed how good you’re at cranking one out everyday.


  • Alina

    I cannot believe there are people who did not get the joke… I truly hope they did not read the whole article, though I’m still not convinced what’s worse: not having a sense of humour and jumping at one’s neck at the first mistake spotted OR reading the whole thing and not getting the puns… As a disclaimer, I probably didn’t get them all, either (English is not my mothertongue), but still! 🙂

  • Paulette Williams

    How to write ‘good’ – Is that acceptable? How to write good… what??? …good letters? …good essays? Why did you use the adjective? Isn’t it an adverb that’s required — as in ‘How to write WELL’?

  • Sharon

    This is a brilliant list, one that makes you think AND makes you smile!

    And I agree with Carolyn about the comments… 🙂

  • Aidan

    I can’t believe that people are actually correcting these rules.

    I’m 17, and English is my SL, and I understood that it was a parody on the second rule. Given that you know that a person writes well, and not good (although you can’t spot humor if it hits you in the face with a pan) I presume the writer of this article knows it as well, and is indeed only trying to make a joke.

    That said, these rules are fine, but I would apply the rule 35 in this case.

  • Carolyn

    The funniest thing is reading all the comments from people who don’t get the joke. (Looking at you, Silvia)

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