How to write good

I found the following witty little list on the internet, in the form of an anonymous photograph of something found "on a fridge in Hull". I have shortened the original list slightly, dropping out items that were slightly repetitive or not very useful.

The value of going through this list with the students is two-fold. Firstly, the advice given is essentially correct and helpful - but secondly, the ideas are presented with subtle irony: each of the items implicitly contradicts the advice that it explicitly gives.

So, the idea is to run through the list, aiming to encourage the students to notice the ironic twist in each item, and also to explain how the irony works. They will probably not notice such ironies when you start, but will rapidly catch on - thus developing skill in detecting, and deciphering accurately, implications and nuances... which is a vital sophisticated reading skill.

Here is the list. You can either present the material by:

as a handout (best used with groups which are already quite sophisticated in their reading skills)

projecting the list using Presentation mode (best for introducing the concept of noticing ironic nuances, particularly with middling-to-weak groups). Click on the little icons to reveal the various items one by one.


How to write good

1.  Avoid alliteration. Always.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. Avoid cliches like the plague. They’re old hat.

4. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

5. Be more or less specific.

6. Writers should never generalise.

Seven. Be consistent.

8. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

9. Who needs rhetorical questions?

10. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.


...and Orwell's version of advice

Note that the handout also contains the list of guidelines that George Orwell gives at the end of Politics and the English Language (1946). Remember his famous definition of bullshit in politics: " Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

If you want a heads-up discussion of this, here's the list in projectable format:-

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

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

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

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


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