Nuttycow's rules on how to write good.
George Orwell had six rules for effective writing.
· Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
· Never use a long word where a short one will do.
· If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
· Never use the passive where you can use the active.
· Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
· Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
For me, the last rule is the most important. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken (she says, breaking rule number one). Far better to write naturally and fluidly, getting your story across, than stick rigidly to a set of commandments. Please bare this in mind when reading the rest of this post…
Now, I know this subject has been written to death but hell, I should get the chance to share my £0.02 worth too (or, I suppose for American readers, my $0.02 worth).
Spelling: Spell cheque is their for a reason. Of course, it won’t catch all the spelling mistakes you might make, but it’s a start.
Grammar: If you’re not sure on the order of words, when to use “whom” and when to use “who”, look it up. Honestly, it’ll make your writing easier much to read.
Basic knowledge: Our or are? Your or you’re? Their or there? To, two or too? Its or it’s? Learn the difference and where they’re used. Please.
Write as you talk: Ok, this might seem an odd one. Generally, when people speak they don’t pay much attention to syntax, semantics and all of those good things. They just talk. They get the point across. And that’s what your writing should do too. People find it much easier to understand things when it’s not covered in a myriad of long words, sub clauses and waffle.
However… at the same time adopt an appropriate tone: If you’re writing your company’s annual report, conversational style might not be the best way forward. That is, unless your company is of the Google and Innocent mould.
Layout: Writing a long piece? Lay it out properly. This means paragraphs, bullet points, varying length of sentence. Honestly, it makes it a lot easier to read. Be kind to your reader (especially if you’re writing online)
Gobbledygook: Yes, the people you live with may well know that EBM means “Evil Bastard Man” and refers to your ex-boyfriend, your audience may not. Although you might just want to to touch base and talk about some blue sky thinking, everyone else will just think you’re weird. Speak English.
Long words: You may be a naturally verbose individual. You might feel long words somehow make you the eminence grise. However, your circumlocution and affectation for using long words just makes your reader feel a little stupid.
Know your readers: Who’s reading your writing? A 5 year old? A 50 year old? Someone who knows the subject matter as well as you do? Adjust your writing accordingly.