1. When you sit down to write, the most important person in your life is the reader.
2. Do not write to impress.
3. The first sentence you write will be the most important sentence in your life. and so will the second, and the third.
4. Simple words, clear ideas and short sentences are vital in good writing.
5. No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.
6. Remember, nobody has to read your writing.
7. Never make the mistake of assuming that the reader is stupid, or overestimate what he knows.
8. Life is complicated, but your writing should not be.
9. The reader will be grateful to have at least one concept or idea explained clearly, because nobody ever reads stories that say "What follows is inexplicably complicated ..."
10. A story should only say one big thing. You may weave bits and parts together, but do not depart from the one linear narrative you have chosen.
11. Don't even start writing till you have decided what the one big thing is going to be, and then say it to yourself in just one sentence.
12. There is always an ideal first sentence – an intro, a way in – for any article. It really helps to think of this one before you start writing, because you will discover that the subsequent sentences write themselves.
13. Write information that slides down easily and quickly, without footnotes, obscure references and footnotes to footnotes.
14. Good journalism should give you the sensation of humor, excitement, poignancy or piquancy. something gleaming, flashy and – yes, trivial.
15. Words have meanings. Respect those meanings and use them properly. Don't flaunt authority by flouting your ignorance.
16. Clichés should be avoided, except when they are the right cliché.
17. Metaphors are great. Just don't choose loopy metaphors, and never, never mix them.
18. Beware of street language. it has its own rhythms, body language, and own signalling devices. The language of the page should have no accent, no helpful signalling tone of irony or comedy or self-mockery. It must be straight, clear and vivid and contain appropriate grammar.
19. Do not use long and preposterous words or jargon.
20. English is better than Latin. Don't exterminate, kill. Don't salivate, drool. Don't conflagrate, burn.
21. Remember that people will always respond to something close to them that they care about.
22. Read lots of different things.
23. Beware of all definitives. There will almost always be someone who turns out to be bigger, faster, older, earlier, richer or more nauseating than the candidate to whom you have just awarded a superlative.
24. Remember, there are things that good taste and the law will simply not let you say in print.
25. Writers have a responsibility, not just in law. So aim for the truth. If that's elusive, and it often is, at least aim for fairness, the awareness that there is always another side to the story. Beware of all claims to objectivity.
This article was amended on 21 January 2011. The original referred to Dashiel Hammet. This has been corrected.
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