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How to Write

In his introduction to the Lectures on Style, Karl Philipp Moritz writes that good writing is not a matter of following the right rules, good writing is well thought. “A beautiful and true expression needs to be preceded by the right thought.” This sums up all useful writing advice in a nutshell.

There are no writing tips that can fix bad thinking, and no Elements of Style will fix a lack of ideas. Rather, the best writing advice is guiding you to think for yourself. To think before writing, to be conscious of what you aim to say and to reflect whether what you have written is what you meant.

“Knowing a lot of rules will not help us to write well… What is supposed to be beautifully said, requires to be beautifully thought beforehand; otherwise it will become but empty bombast and wordplay that deceives us.” – Karl Philipp Moritz

Stylistic rules and orders “Don’t use adjectives!” or “Avoid the passive voice!” “No repetition!” will destroy your text if you followed them without thinking. But they can unleash unknown poetic forces if you take them as an invitation to think. From Orwell’s six rules for better writing only the last one needs to be followed 100% of the time:

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 a word out, 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.

Good writing mirrors good thinking and thinking well requires great care and love for detail. If you don’t care how you say things, why should anyone care to listen to you?

The following index lists writing instructions as instructions to think. It features a collection of classic texts that will help you improve your writing skills. Remember: reading How-To tips will not make you a better at anything. Exercise does. The most efficient way to improve your writing skills is to write daily.