Here’s the mission imbloggable guide to the rules of writing - and when to break them.
1.Write as you speak
Don't always take this rule too literally. C’mon, most of us, like, use extra words and phrases, you get me? And, um, like, pause when speaking and stuff like that yeah? So if this is, like, totally you……..then miss out those little extras from your actual speech, when you're writing, yeah?
Active or passive? When writing for the web, the active voice is king. Let’s say you’re a garden gnome salesman. You’re writing your blog about all the great things you did at the garden gnome convention last week. So you write ‘I saw a great collection of exotic gnomes at the convention.’ You don’t write ‘exotic gnomes were in evidence to those attending the convention.’ Because the first version is active, and more direct. Good work, another tick.
2.Use the direct voice
Break this rule when blame shifting. Maybe a few things went wrong at the convention. That beautifully laid out stand of hand-painted ornate gnomes that collapsed, at great cost to the stall holder? Write ‘the contents of one stall were ruined when an incident involving a clumsy person occurred.’ Don’t write ‘I walked into the table and knocked over the stall.’
You might mean serious elephant operation when you type SEO, I might mean search engine optimisation. The first time you use an acronym, explain it in brackets , don’t alienate your SMS (specific market sector). LO(learning objective) achieved, as they say in schools these days.
3.Don’t alienate with acronyms (DAWA)
If you’re writing for a very niche audience you can break this rule. If your article about serious elephant operation is being published in ‘Elephant Operator Weekly’ magazine, then go ahead and work those acronyms.
Three is the magic number, as De La Soul reminded us in 1990. The rule of three works in design, where you often see three colours used for a logo or poster. It also works for writing: the blog post was informative, amusing and accurate. Try ‘my hairstyle this morning is sharp, funny and educational.’ Doesn’t work as well when you cram in a fourth: ‘my hairstyle this morning is sharp, funny, dangerous and educational.’ Follow the rule of threes for a smiley face stamp on your work every time.
4.The rule of threes*
When to break this rule? It’s a question of rhythm. Find your own rhythm in your writing – threes work well but sticking to them too religiously can make things seem rigid, strict and regimental.
*Also in this blog post I’ve just written four rules for you to break.