Rules for beginning writers.

Got wind of this advice for beginning writers from BoingBoing, who found it from VS Naipaul.

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.


They found it here. I agree with Cory Doctorow that these rules should not be absolute – with the exception of # 4. What will it take for people to use the dictionary? And yet when dictionary is used – will they resist the impulse to cite it as a source?

When a toddler announces to a dinner party that they have pooped and wiped themselves, we find it acceptable and even cute. When an adolescent does the same – not cute and only acceptable if we have very low expectations of said adolescent. We expect students to use dictionaries and encyclopedias, but we don’t look for that as sources on papers.