Research: MLP: Now you too can write good

Print Article

Editor’s note: While Mrs. Language Person recovers from a broken wrist — no, not from wagging her finger too forcefully — we revisit some of her more memorable linquistic lectures.


What joy to be affirmed! To see Mrs. Language Person’s lifelong passion, her raison d’etre, adopted by officialdom! Elated is she upon discovery of “PlainLanguage.Gov,” a federal website devoted to effective communication including — brace yourselves, fellow linguists and nitpickers — rules, tips, and tools for writing clearly.

Yes, the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) focuses on government-citizen communication, not preservation of language or grammar as such (sniff, sniff). Yes, its primary focus since inception in the 1990s, bolstered by executive order in 2010, is to ensure that federal agencies and regulations are comprehensible to the average American (query, will these be “dumbed down” to accommodate our declining literacy?).

No, the U.S. has not yet followed France’s lead to create a department devoted to the preservation of proper English. Yet simply to know that someone in officialdom still cares … Sigh.

And so MLP was (perhaps disproportionately) delighted to see there this tongue-in-cheek classic for writers of all kinds: Frank Visco’s “How to Write Good,” originally published in the June 1986 edition of Writer’s Digest. Your MLP has committed not one of these sins, certainly not in this carefully constructed column:

1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)

4. Employ the vernacular (i.e. keep local for yokels).

5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary. (MLP never uses parentheticals. Neither does she generalize nor use one-word sentences. Ever.)

7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

8. Contractions aren’t necessary.

9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

10. One should never generalize.

11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” (Journalists excepted.)

12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

14. Profanity sucks.

15. Be more or less specific.

16. Understatement is always best.

17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

18. One word sentences? Eliminate.

19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

20. The passive voice is to be avoided.

21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

Wait, Dear Reader; there’s more! Next time, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Safire’s “Rules for Writers.” Is your breath befittingly bated?


Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Contact them at

Print Article

Read More Sholeh Patrick

Population explosion might be an implosion

April 25, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press It’s an old story — the planet is overrun with people, polluting and overstraining its resources. People just won’t stop reproducing — so much that a population clock speeds along at an alarming rate...


Read More

A joke a day can keep the doc away, Bill attests

April 23, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press Want to boost your immune system? Try comedy. You don’t need to be a scientist to know laughing triggers endorphins — it feels good to giggle. But science has proven that laughing is also good for p...


Read More

Research: Happy Easter: Now, here’s a spanking

April 18, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press Beyond bunnies and eggs, a few of Easter’s lesser known facts: Pascha(l) — Easter’s name derives from Pesach, the Hebrew Passover. Slavic languages use variations of Pascha. Eastern etymology: “Eas...


Read More

Research: MLP: Facts behind taxing phrases

April 16, 2019 at 5:00 am | Coeur d'Alene Press Feeling a little poorer today? Odds are each April 15 nets a bigger payment or smaller refund than the average American hoped for. Life’s tribulations make good fodder for pithy sayings. Mrs. Langu...


Read More

Contact Us

(208) 664-8176
215 N. Second St
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83814

©2019 The Coeur d'Alene Press Terms of Use Privacy Policy