Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writing Tips from the Presbyterians

I like the randomness of the clause after the colon and hence will not explain it: I was browsing the contributors' guidelines for Presbyterians Today magazine this afternoon (for a good work-related reason, I will add), and it included a great list of basic rules for writers from Writer's Digest magazine:

  1. Prefer the plain word to the fancy.
  2. Prefer the familiar word to the unfamiliar.
  3. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance. (This one is slightly silly; see here.)
  4. Prefer nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs.
  5. Prefer picture nouns and action verbs.
  6. Never use a long word when a short one will do as well.
  7. Master the simple declarative sentence.
  8. Prefer the simple sentence to the complicated.
  9. Vary the sentence length.
  10. Put the word you want to emphasize at the beginning or end of your sentence.
  11. Use the active voice.
  12. Put the statements in a positive form.
  13. Use short paragraphs.
  14. Cut needless words, sentences and paragraphs.
  15. Use plain, conversational language.
  16. Avoid imitation. Write in your natural style.
  17. Write clearly.
  18. Avoid gobbledygook and jargon.
  19. Write to be understood, not to impress.
  20. Revise and rewrite. Improvement is always possible.


  1. A lot of these sound like they came from Strunk and White.

  2. Wow, I was browsing the contributors' guidelines for "Presbyterians Today" this afternoon, too. What a coinscidence!

  3. Thanks Cheryl :) The tips make sense, especially the one abt using a simple word instead of a difficult one and varying sentence lengths..

    I'm doing a correspondence with the Writer's Bureau (They're based in Manchester). It felt like I was reading through one of their modules..

  4. I knew there was a reason Presbyterian ministers wear scholar's robes.

    Interesting bit by the Fowler brothers; do you have Fowler's Modern English Usage? I like reading it the way people who don't cook like looking at recipes.

    The Economist goes into more depth on the Writer's Digest list here:

    I was especially amused by the Americanisms section.

    “In an American context you may run for office (but please stand in countries with parliamentary systems) and your car may sometimes run on gasoline instead of petrol. But if you use corn in the American sense you should explain that this is maize to most people (unless it is an old chestnut). Trains run from railway stations, not train stations. The people in them, and on buses, are passengers, not riders. Cars are hired, not rented. City centres are not central cities. Cricket is a game not a sport. London is the country's capital, not the nation's. Ex-servicemen are not necessarily veterans. In Britain, though cattle and pigs may be raised, children are (or should be) brought up.”

    Bon Appetit!


  5. Strunk and White indeed!

    "Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!"

    Holy cow, this is almost all Strunk and White, though I can't make a point-by-point comparison because my copy's at work. Well, if you gotta borrow, borrow from the best.