As long as I can remember, I've been collecting and writing grammar rules that break themselves. It started with a print production manager named Bert who told me, “The passive voice is to be avoided.”
I saw its potential, and the list kept growing. In the mid 1980's, when I was working in New York ad agencies, I decided to send my list, which I facetiously called “How to Write Good, ” to Writer's Digest. They bought it, and published it in the issue pictured here.
After it was published, the magazine received a request from an instructor at the Dallas Theological Seminary, asking permission to use it in his class. They forwarded the request to me, and I wrote back, saying he could use it as long as I received credit.
I since discovered that somehow, that list -- usually with my name attached -- made it to the internet, and it s been circulating ever since. It has even earned top billing (over William Safire, no less) on a United States government website that gives examples of humor in writing. Some people add to it, some remove my name and replace it with theirs, but this is how it started. Here is the original piece, as published in Writer s Digest, and copyrighted by me.
HOW TO WRITE GOOD
by Frank L. Visco
My several years in the word game have learnt me several rules:
Avoid Alliteration. Always.
Propositions are not sentences to end sentences with.
Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
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 once said: “I hate quotations Tell me what you know.”
Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
Be more or less specific.
Understatement is always best.
Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
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?
I later hired a wonderful designer to create posters, mousepads, a line of clothing and other items to sell online in my write good shop – which also included rules from a follow-up piece that the magazine also bought and ran, called, of course, “How to Write Gooder.”
It hasn't made me rich.
Next time: Ads you never saw, but should have.