More writing rules

rogersgeorge on May 12th, 2012

These rules are from a fellow I had never heard of, David Ogilvy. I found these on a site called Brain Pickings, in an article by Maria Popova.  The site is pretty interesting—go check it out. Here’s the list of writing rules:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

I put in a link to the book in rule 1. If you click the link and buy the book, I’ll get a pittance from Amazon. If you go Brain Pickings and click their link, they’ll get the pittance.

Be careful with rule 2—people talk messily, and good writing is a product of reflection. I wonder if my word “pretentiousism” fits in rule 4. Rule 5: Mr. Ogilvy was writing in a business memo context, I think. I can’t imagine that he would be against books, plays, and complete instructions. Rule 6 is just plain being responsible. You can generalize rule 7 to anything you write. That fish poem I wrote a couple posts back went through a good twenty revisions over at least four days. I like rule 10. Not being there in person one a minor problem of distributed teams: We can’t go stand over someone who is slow to respond.

David Ogilvy

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Rules of writing

rogersgeorge on February 8th, 2012

While I’m quoting others’ work, I may as well post another quote. This list of writing rules is from Elmore Leonard, who, though I have never read any of his work, must be an okay guy, because his first name is my middle name.

I found this at The article contains several other lists of writing rules; I feel the closest kinship to George Orwell’s rules, and not because his first name is my last name.

Description or prescription?

rogersgeorge on January 5th, 2012

Two schools of thought swim in the seas of linguistics. I call then the describers and the prescribers.

Describers say “This is how people use language.” They make no value judgements about language, and (IMO) consider themselves to be scientists.


Prescribers say “This is how language ought to be used.” Their premise is that if you don’t follow the rules, you will not be understood. I think they consider themselves to be communicators and teachers.


If you follow this site with any regularity, you know that a lot of the material here is prescriptive. Well, I’m a communicator. You need some rules to avoid ambiguity. But there’s a place for the purely descriptive, too, and debates between the two schools are mostly unnecessary; and they tend to concentrate in the boundary where change in language affects the rules. I think the describers tell the prescribers where they will be in the future, and the prescribers hate having to give in to the describers all the time.

I said all that to give you a link to a wonderful describer site. Check it out. It’s called Wordnik, and it’s a huge purely descriptive database (dictionary) of words as they are used now on the internet. No comments about rightness or wrongness. You can look for my own neologism, pretentiousism. I don’t think you’ll find it. Yet.