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How to Write Good
Advice from an unlikely source
Did you know that the U.S. government has a website to promote the use of plain language for all government communications?
Originally called the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), plainlanguage.gov is an unfunded working group of federal employees from different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing.
That’s right. The Deep State has grammar Nazis.
But how marvelous that there are people who are so committed to the art of communication that they united to create this resource.
Federal plain language guidelines are (or ought to be) universal, because simply put, they’re sensible:
Write for your audience
Organize the information
Choose your words carefully
Keep it conversational
Design for reading
Follow web standards
Test your assumptions
Beyond those general guidelines, they’ve even created a resource called “How to Write Good.”
Keep this list nearby, as it may come in handy — whether or not you’re a federal employee.
How to Write Good
Avoid alliteration. Always.
Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
Avoid clichés like the plague. (They're old hat.)
Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
Employ the vernacular.
Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
Contractions aren't necessary.
Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
One should never generalize.
Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
Be more or less specific.
Understatement is always best.
One-word sentences? Eliminate.
Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
The passive voice is to be avoided.
Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
Who needs rhetorical questions?
Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the Internet.
Oh, as long as you’re still here, you might want to check out this related Off the Clock entry: Eschew Obfuscation