Style is as important as substance
Example 1: The Economist Style Guide, 2015
The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible. Keep in mind George Orwell's six elementary rules ("Politics and the English Language", 1946):
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Readers are primarily interested in what you have to say. By the way in which you say it you may encourage them either to read on or to give up. If you want them to read on:
Do not be stuffy. "To write a genuine, familiar or truly English style", said Hazlitt, "is to write as anyone would speak in common conversation who had a thorough command or choice of words or who could discourse with ease, force and perspicuity setting aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes."
1Use the language of everyday speech, not that of spokesmen, lawyers or bureaucrats (so prefer let to permit, people to persons, buy to purchase, colleague to peer, way out to exit, present to gift, rich to wealthy, show to demonstrate, break to violate). Pomposity and long-windedness tend to obscure meaning, or reveal the lack of it: strip them away in favour of plain words.
Do not be hectoring or arrogant. Those who disagree with you are not necessarily stupid or insane. Nobody needs to be described as silly: let your analysis show that he is. When you express opinions, do not simply make assertions. The aim is not just to tell readers what you think, but to persuade them; if you use arguments, reasoning and evidence, you may succeed. Go easy on the oughts and shoulds.
Do not be too pleased with yourself. Don't boast of your own cleverness by telling readers that you correctly predicted something or that you have a scoop. You are more likely to bore or irritate them than to impress them.
Do not be too chatty. Surprise, surprise is more irritating than informative. So is Ho, ho and, in the middle of a sentence, wait for it, etc.
Do not be too didactic. If too many sentences begin Compare, Consider, Expect, Imagine, Look at, Note, Prepare for, Remember or Take, readers will think they are reading a textbook (or, indeed, a style book). This may not be the way to persuade them to renew their subscriptions.
Do your best to be lucid ("I see but one rule: to be clear", Stendhal). Simple sentences help. Keep complicated constructions and gimmicks to a minimum, if necessary by remembering the New Yorker's comment: "Backward ran the sentences until reeled the mind."
Mark Twain described how a good writer treats sentences: 2"At times he may indulge himself with a long one, but he will make sure there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole; when he has done with it, it won't be a sea-serpent with half of its arches under the water; it will be a torch-light procession."
Long paragraphs, like long sentences, can confuse the reader. "The paragraph", according to Fowler, "is essentially a unit of thought, not of length; it must be homogeneous in subject matter and sequential in treatment." One-sentence paragraphs should be used only occasionally.
Clear thinking is the key to clear writing. "A scrupulous writer", observed Orwell, "in every sentence that he writes will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?"
Scrupulous writers will also notice that their copy is edited only lightly and is likely to be used. It may even be read.
· anaphora & epistrophe; alliteration & assonance; 1 & 2asyndeton; epiplexis; hyperbaton; litotes; metaphor; parallelism & isocolon; parenthesis; repetition; syllabic assonance; tricolon; vernacular expressions
· imperative mood used
· climactic final sentence
· commonest lexis carries the message: use, long, sentences, never, readers
· tricola use general→specific and shorter→longer structures
· maximum brevity (no redundant words or existential clauses; simple, clear structures, e.g. Simple sentences help.)
· no passive voice except necessary 'to be' infinitives
· average sentence length is 15 words (<20 indicates texts written for anyone to understand)
· 44% of the sentences are much longer or shorter (+/-50%) than the average sentence (good writing shows much sentence-length and sentence-structure variety)
· 78% of the text contains words of 1 or 2 syllables (everyday words)
Example 2: Mathematics and the Imagination, Kasner & Newman, 1940
1To grasp the meaning and importance of mathematics, to appreciate its beauty and its value, arithmetic must first be understood, for mostly, since its beginning, mathematics has been arithmetic in simple or elaborate attire. 2Arithmetic has been the queen and the handmaiden of the sciences from the days of the astrologers of Chaldea and the high priests of Egypt to the present days of relativity, quanta and the adding machine. 3Historians may dispute the meaning of the ancient papyri, theologians may wrangle over the exegesis of scripture, philosophers may debate over Pythagorean doctrine, but all will concede that the numbers in the papyri, in the scriptures, and in the writings of Pythagoras are the same as the numbers of today. 4As arithmetic, mathematics has helped man to cast horoscopes, to make calendars, to predict the rising of the Nile, to measure fields and the height of the pyramids, to measure the speed of a stone as it fell from a tower in Pisa, the speed of an apple as it fell from a tree in Woolsthorpe, to weigh the stars and the atoms, to mark the passage of time, to find the curvature of space. 5And although mathematics is also the calculus, the theory of probability, the matrix algebra, the science of the infinite, it is still the heart of counting.
Figures of Speech
1parallelism and isocolon; metaphor
2metaphor; parallelism; tricolon
3anaphora; isocolon; climax
4isocolon; asyndeton; personification; climax
5asyndeton; parallelism; climax
Example 3: Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins, 1998
1We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. 2Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. 3The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. 4Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. 5We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. 6In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
Figures of Speech
6idiom, parenthesis, hyperbole
Example 4: Literature and the Schoolma'm, H.L. Mencken, 1926
1With precious few exceptions, all the books on style in English are by writers quite unable to write. 2The subject, indeed, seems to exercise a special dreadful fascination over schoolma'ms, bucolic college professors, and other such pseudo-literates.
3One never hears of treatises on it by George Moore or James Branch Cabell, but the pedagogues, male and female, are at it all the time. 4In a thousand texts they set forth their depressing ideas about it, and millions of suffering high-school pupils have to study what they say. 5Their central aim, of course, is to reduce the whole thing to a series of simple rules – the overmastering passion of their melancholy order, at all times and everywhere. 6They aspire to teach it as bridge whist, the American Legion flag-drill and double-entry bookkeeping are taught. 7They fail as ignominiously as that Athenian of legend who essayed to train a regiment of grasshoppers in the goose-step.
8For the essence of a sound style is that it cannot be reduced to rules – that it is a living and breathing thing, with something of the devilish in it – that it fits its proprietor tightly and yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him.
9It is, in fact, quite as securely an integral part of him as that skin is. 10It hardens as his arteries harden. 11It has Katzenjammer on the days succeeding his indiscretions. 12It is gaudy when he is young and gathers decorum when he grows old. 13On the day after he makes a mash on a new girl it glows and glitters.
14If he has fed well, it is mellow. 15If he has gastritis it is bitter. 16In brief, a style is always the outward and visible symbol of a man, and it cannot be anything else. 17To attempt to teach it is as silly as to set up courses in making love. 18The man who makes love out of a book is not making love at all; he is simply imitating someone else making love. 19God help him if, in love or literary composition, his preceptor be a pedagogue.
Figures of Speech
1ends with a paradox (all the books on style in English are by writers quite unable to write)
2ends with a rhythmic and paradoxical tricolon (schoolma'ms, bucolic college professors, and other such pseudo-literates)
3ends with alliteration (at it all the time)
4begins with alliteration (a thousand texts they set forth their) and ends with a rhythmic, alliterative final clause (millions of suffering high-school pupils have to study what they say)
5alliteration (a series of simple rules); parallel and rhythmic phrasings (the overmastering passion of their melancholy order; at all times and everywhere)
7simile and alliteration (a regiment of grasshoppers in the goose-step)
8personification, metaphor, parallelism (tightly and yet ever so loosely) and alliteration (as his skin fits)
9-15extended personification & metaphor; alliteration and assonance (It hardens as his arteries harden; days succeeding his indiscretions; girl it glows and glitters; fed well, it is mellow); parallelisms (It is gaudy when he is young and gathers decorum when he grows old; If he has fed well, it is mellow. If he has gastritis it is bitter.)
17-19ridicule and analogy; alliteration & parallelism (To attempt to teach it is as silly as to set up courses; in love or literary composition, his preceptor be a pedagogue)