Information Sheet #78

March 3, 1994


Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.

Prefer the concrete to the abstract.

Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.

Prefer the short word to the long.

Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

 --H.W. & F.G. Fowler

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Place yourself in the background; write in a way that comes naturally; work from a suitable design; write with nouns and verbs; do not overwrite; do not overstate; avoid the use of qualifiers; do not affect a breezy style; use orthodox spelling; do not explain too much; avoid fancy words; do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity; prefer the standard to the offbeat; make sure the reader knows who is speaking; do not use dialect; revise and rewrite.

 --E.B. White

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(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

 --George Orwell

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I see but one rule: to be clear.


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In Act 1, get your characters up a tree; in Act 2, throw stones at them; and in Act 3, get them down again.

 --George H. Cohan

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1. Make your own characters seem good.

2. Make clear connections between sentences.

3. Don't say too many things at once.

4. Don't get lured off the line of argument.

5. Use short paragraphs rather than long.

6. Avoid monotony.

7. Be simple.

8. Omit needless words.

9. Write less; rewrite more.

10. Variety is courtesy to the reader.

 --F. L. Lucas

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Economize. Think of explaining what you have to say clearly, simply and pleasantly to a small mixed group of intelligent people.

Never use a long word when you can find a short one, or a Latin word when you can find a good Old English one.

Suspect yourself of wordiness whenever you see an of, a which or a that. Inspect all areas surrounding any form of to be. Never use exist.

Make sure that each word really makes sense. No one who had inspected the meaning of his words could have written: "Every seat in the auditorium was filled to capacity."

The important thing is, I think, to pick up each sentence in turn, asking ourselves if we can possibly make it shorter.

 --Sheridan Baker


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