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How to Write Good by William Safire

Safire's Fumblerules for Writers


How to Write Good by William Safire

William Safire (1929-2009)

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From 1979 until his death in 2009, William Safire wrote the weekly column "On Language" for The New York Times Magazine. There, in the words of his colleague Robert McFadden, the self-appointed language maven "gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns."

Safire's most famous column, reprinted in the collection Good Advice on Writing (1992), includes the following 17 fumblerules--"mistakes that call attention to the rule." For discussions and additional examples of Safire's prescriptions and proscriptions, follow the links.

How to Write Good*

by William Safire

  1. Avoid run-on sentences that are hard to read.

  2. No sentence fragments.

  3. It behooves us to avoid archaisms.

  4. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.

  5. Don't use no double negatives.

  6. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, "Resist hyperbole."

  7. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.

  8. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

  9. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

  10. Writing carefully, dangling participles should not be used.

  11. Kill all exclamation points!!!

  12. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

  13. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

  14. Take the bull by the hand, and don't mix metaphors.

  15. Don't verb nouns.

  16. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

  17. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

*"How to Write Good" appears in Good Advice on Writing: Writers Past and Present on How to Write Well, compiled and edited by William Safire and Leonard Safir (Simon & Schuster, 1992).

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