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12 Rules for Writing

A teacher recently asked me for a list of writing rules I use as a professional editor. Grammatical mistakes aside, I find myself making the same edits consistently. In case you too want to clean up your writing – or your students – I’ve listed below the rules I use as a writer and editor. Some of these are stylistic, but assuming a somewhat formal context, they tend to universally apply. I hope you find them helpful!

1. Never use a big word when a simpler one will suffice. To do otherwise is loquacious.

2. Never use many words when one will suffice. Using one fitting word is not pretentious but concise.

3. Always prioritize clarity over tone. To attempt to sound smart at the expense of the reader is unkind.

4. Always choose the most precise and accurate word.

5. Remove prepositional phrases whenever possible.

6. Only use “be verbs” when discussing states of being. Typically, “is” is used because the subject isn’t specified. See what I did there?

7. Unless your reader knows you, do not begin a composition with the word “I.” The reader doesn’t yet care.

8. Do not use the same subject multiple sentences in a row.

9. Vary your sentence structure.

10. Use adjectives sparingly.

11. Never use absolutes.

12. Always learn the rules before you break them.

If you would like to learn more about editing, join Katerina this January 2022 in her six-week intensive, Editing Bootcamp.

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