9 Writing Rules from the Late William Safire

William Safire, who died last September, was, among other things, a longtime columnist and clever commentator on writing issues. Enjoy these pearls.

  1. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  2. And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
  3. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  4. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  5. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
  6. De-accession euphemisms.
  7. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  8. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  9. Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

(From Great Rules of Writing by William Safire)

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William Safire and the Art of Persuasion

New York Times columnist William Safire died on Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I knew of him but was not very well informed about his long career as a communications pro.

That might seem like an odd term for Safire, who is most recently remembered as a conservative columnist and defender of intelligent usage of the English language. But I learned a lot more about Safire in the few minutes it took to read one of the many articles published in recent days. He was, indeed, a pro who practiced the art of persuasion in a variety of settings throughout a long career, including journalism, advertising, public relations and politics.

Surprisingly, Safire was a college dropout (Syracuse University) who entered journalism and worked in all media, including TV in its early days. I didn’t realize Safire had a career in public relations, and was working in the field when Richard Nixon asked him to join Nixon’s 1960 campaign for president, which Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy.

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