heinlein's rules

Added on by Matthew Sutton.

Writing rules from Robert Heinlein

  • You Must Write
  • Finish What You Start
  • You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
  • You Must Put Your Story on the Market
  • You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
  • Start Working on Something Else

Tufte on Presentations

Added on by Matthew Sutton.

Rules from Edward Tufte for better presentations.

  • Show up early: Something good is bound to happen.
  • Lay out the problem: who cares about it and what the solution is.
  • When presenting complicated material, follow PGP (particular/general/particular). When you talk, TALK: avoid the obvious reliance on notes.
  • Give everyone in your audience a piece of paper.
  • Match the information density in your presentation to the highest resolution newspapers. Avoid overhead projectors. Keep the lights up in the room.
  • Never apologize.
  • Use humor, but make it relevant and never irritating.
  • Use gender-neutral speech.
  • Practice intensely beforehand.
  • Meetings have a very low rate of information transfer.
  • Take questions, but NEVER condescend to the questioner.
  • Keep in mind that most questions arise from personal concerns.
  • Express enthusiasm about your material, but only if your enthusiasm is real.
  • Finish early.

orwell's rules

Added on by Matthew Sutton.

Rules to follow for better writing.

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

orwell's questions

Added on by Matthew Sutton.

Ask these questions when writing or editing

  • 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? Could I put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

My question to add:

  • Can I say this more beautifully?

Strunk and White's Principles Of Composition

Added on by Matthew Sutton.

Follow These and Write Better

  • Choose a suitable design
  • Use the active voice
  • Put statements in positive form
  • Use definite, specific, concrete language
  • Omit needless words
  • Place yourself in the background
  • Write naturally
  • Write with nouns and verbs
  • Revise and rewrite
  • Do not overwrite
  • Avoid qualifiers
  • Do not affect a breezy manner
  • Use orthodox spelling
  • Do not explain too much
  • Do not construct awkward adverbs
  • Avoid fancy words
  • Avoid dialect
  • Avoid mixing languages
  • Prefer the standard to the offbeat

My students should read this book, Elements of Style. They will be better for it. I know I am.

write better

Added on by Matthew Sutton.


  1. Does it move the piece forward?
  2. Stand back from the paper and look objectively at the major chunks. Do they all belong?
  3. Move in a little closer. Are there paragraphs or sentences the paper could live without?
  4. Lean over the pages still closer. Are there idle, cluttering phrases or words?
  5. Get out the magnifying glass. Could shorter words express the thought as clearly? Could some words be shortened?



  1. Is there a unity of subject and scope?
  2. Is there a unified tone and style?
  3. Are verb tenses consistent?
  4. Are paragraphs and sentences to the point and unified?


  1. Are all references unambiguous?
  2. Are all words together that belong together?
  3. Are the relationships between sentences and ideas clear?
  4. Are transitions smooth?


  1. Are all the parts in the right proportion?
  2. Are the important things anywhere but in the middle?
  3. Have I used effective repetition, variable length, and careful positioning?


  1. Have I always select the best word, best phrasing, and most effective diction?
  2. Do my sentences vary in length and form?
  3. Have I scrutinized my verbs? Is the use any of these [am, is, are, was, were, be being, been, will, shall, should, have, having, has had, may, might, must, can, could] a passive verb construction? Could I make any of these active or substitute a noun/preposition in a gerund? Have I used the verb that comes as close as possible to giving the reader an image of the action—without requiring an adverb to make it work?
  4. Have I limited modifiers instead of choosing the right noun? Have I used nouns that come as close as possible to describing the subject (or object) without requiring one or more adjectives? Do the nouns paint images, or are they merely vague abstractions? Have I limited parenthetical explanations, modifiers, and clauses? Have I used to concrete details? Have I made my writing live by stimulating the reader’s several senses? Do I have mixed, confused, or dead metaphors?
  5. Have I avoided distracters like obscenities, sexisms, dialects, clichés, jargons, misspellings, and misuses?
  6. Am I enjoying my writing? Will others enjoy my writing?

adapted from Theodore Cheney's Getting the Words Right