25 rules of effective writing from a plain English legend; and my nine all-time favourites

My regular readers know I’m a big fan of plain English and Rudolf Flesch.

One of my favourite writing books is Dr Flesch’s “How to write, speak and think more effectively”. First published in 1946, its tips are as relevant today as at the end of Word War II.

Below, I’ve:

  • summarised Dr Flesch’s 25 rules of effective writing;
  • added examples to explain a few; and
  • highlighted my nine favourites.

These rules work for all kinds of writing: from business communications, school work and even fiction.  Many apply to speaking, too.

The 25 Rules of effective writing

1. Write about people, things and facts (not abstract ideas and concepts), e.g. “He voted for Obama in November” rather than “The male person exercised one of his fundamental democratic rights by casting a ballot in favour of his preferred Presidential candidate, the Democrat Party nominee, in the eleventh month of the calendar year”.

2. Write as you talk. 

3. Use contractions (e.g. “don’t”).

4. Use the first person (“I”).

5. Quote what was said.

6. Quote what was written.

7. Put yourself in the reader’s place.

8. Don’t hurt the reader’s feelings.

9. Forestall misunderstandings.

10. Don’t be too brief.

11. Plan a beginning, middle, and end.

12. Go from the rule to the exception; and from the familiar to the new.

13. Use short names and abbreviations.

14. Use pronouns rather than repeating nouns.

15. Use verbs rather than nouns (e.g. “Complete the report”, not “The report has now reached completion”).

16. Use the active voice and a personal subject (e.g. “Sara watered the grass” not “The grass was watered by Sara”).

17. Use small, round figures.

18. Specify: use illustrations, cases and examples.

19. Start a new sentence for each new idea.

20. Keep sentences short.

21. Keep paragraphs short.

22. Use direct questions.

23. Underline for emphasis.

24. Use parentheses for casual mention.

25. Make your writing interesting to look at.

Source: R. Flesch. (1946). How to write, speak and think more effectively. Signet, NY, NY.

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Image: http://tinyurl.com/zgw9tgv


Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.

David Kinnane
Speech-Language Pathologist. Lawyer. Father. Reader. Writer. Speaker.

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