Editorial rules




How to write well

Taken from: Umberto Eco, La Bustina di Minerva, Bompiani 2000. In this Sachet Umberto Eco has translated a series of very popular rules among American business writers. They went from site to site and from email to email, so it is no longer known who the author is.

I found on the internet a series of instructions on how to write well. I make them mine, with some variations, because I think they can be useful to many, especially those who attend writing schools.

  1. Avoid alliterations, even if they tempt fools.
  2. It is not that the subjunctive should be avoided, on the contrary, that it is used when necessary.
  3. Avoid clichés: it's reheated soup.
  4. Express yourself as you feed yourself.
  5. Do not use commercial acronyms & abbreviations etc.
  6. Remember (always) that the parenthesis (even when it seems essential) interrupts the thread of the discussion.
  7. Be careful not to do ... ellipsis indigestion.
  8. Use as few quotes as possible: it is not "fine".
  9. Never generalize.
  10. Foreign words are not at all bon ton.
  11. Be stingy with quotes. Emerson rightly said: “I hate quotes. Just tell me what you know. "
  12. Comparisons are like clichés.
  13. Don't be redundant; do not repeat the same thing twice; repeating is superfluous (by redundancy we mean the useless explanation of something that the reader has already understood).
  14. Only assholes use vulgar words.
  15. Always be more or less specific.
  16. Hyperbole is the most extraordinary of expressive techniques.
  17. Don't make one-word sentences. Eliminate them.
  18. Beware of too bold metaphors: they are feathers on the scales of a snake.
  19. Put the commas in the right place.
  20. Distinguish between the function of the semicolon and that of the colon: even if it is not easy.
  21. If you can't find the right Italian expression, never use the dialect expression: peso el tacòn del buso.
  22. Don't use incongruous metaphors even if they seem to "sing": they are like a swan that derails.
  23. Is there really a need for rhetorical questions?
  24. Be concise, try to condense your thoughts into as few words as possible, avoiding long sentences - or broken sentences that inevitably confuse the careless reader - so that your speech does not contribute to the pollution of information that certainly is (especially when uselessly stuffed with useless, or at least not indispensable, details) one of the tragedies of our time dominated by the power of the media.
  25. The accents must not be neither incorrect nor useless, because whoever does it is wrong.
  26. Do not apostrophize an indefinite article before the masculine noun.
  27. Don't be emphatic! Be park with exclamations!
  28. Not even the worst fans of barbarisms pluralize foreign terms.
  29. Spell out foreign names exactly, such as Beaudelaire, Roosewelt, Niezsche, and the like.
  30. Name the authors and characters you speak of directly, without paraphrasing. So did the greatest Lombard writer of the nineteenth century, the author of May 5th.
  31. At the beginning of the speech, use the captatio benevolentiae, to ingratiate yourself with the reader (but maybe you are so stupid that you don't even understand what I'm saying).
  32. He carefully treats the spelling.
  33. Needless to tell you how cloying the predictions are.
  34. Don't wrap around too often. At least, not when it's not needed.
  35. Never use the plural majestatis. We believe it makes a bad impression.
  36. Do not confuse the cause with the effect: you would be wrong and therefore you would be wrong.
  37. Do not construct sentences in which the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises: if everyone did so, then the premises would follow from the conclusions.
  38. Do not indulge in archaisms, hapax legomena or other unusual lexemes, as well as rhizomatic deep structures which, although they appear to you as so many epiphanies of grammatological difference and invitations to deconstructive drift - but even worse it would be if they proved to be objectionable to the scrutiny of those who read with ecdotic acribia - however, exceed the recipient's cognitive skills.
  39. You don't have to be verbose, but neither do you have to say less than what.
  40. A completed sentence must have.