Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 8, 2010

William Safire Rules on Writing

Below is a list of Writing Rules by the late William Safire, but just like any list of rules; rules are made to be broken and Safire broke each of his rules during his career as a writer and with this list. 

Here’s his list:

1. Do not put statements in the negative form.

Always write positive statements. The positive is stronger than the negative.

2. And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.

Do not start sentences with a conjunction. Conjunctions serve to connect words, phrases, clauses, and sentences, not to start them.

3. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.

Reread and edit your work to avoid repetition. Enough said.

4. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

Never use a long word when a small one will do. Using a thesaurus and carefully selecting new vocabulary words can help improve your writing. In some sentences, however, simple is best.

6. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

Linking verbs link the subject of the verb to more information. A linking verb cannot properly end a sentence as more information must follow.

7. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

8. De-accession euphemisms. 

What is a euphemism?  An agreeable word or expression substituted for one that is potentially offensive, often having to do with bodily functions, sex, or death; for example, rest room for toilet, lady of the evening for prostitute. The Nazis used euphemism in referring to their plan to murder the world’s Jews as “the Final Solution.”

9. Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

Avoid cliches. Cliches were once original speech or writing and sounded great. Since then, they have become used so much that they are dull. Cliches add nothing to your writing and detract from it. Take the time to think of something new.

Following rules is not always the best way to write. Breaking the rules can result in better writing. Knowing when to break the rules and why is essential. Without rule knowledge, however, breaking the rules rarely results in improved writing. So, follow Safire’s rules unless you know exactly why you are breaking them. 

Author William Safire, columnist, journalist, and presidential speechwriter, has contributed to “On Language” in The New York Times Magazine and written a number of books, including books on writing.

Hope this helps your writing.  Maybe you have your own list that you would like to share.  We’d love to read it.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for posting this! I am a communications student, but I have spent most of my time with broadcasting. I really want to get into journalism. I would recommend any other aspiring writers to pick up Thinker’s Thesaurus It is actually really entertaining to read and the new edition has over 15,00 entries.


  2. Thanks – very wry and to the point. Kudos to the late Mr. Safire.


  3. trendy locutions that sound flaky?? 🙂
    Thanks for posting these Kath!!



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