What’s the most important writing rule?

I’ve started doing some teaching recently, and this week ran a seminar on how to write better. When I was preparing my slides, naturally I wrote down all the good writing tips I wanted to get across. After the seminar, it struck me that there was a lot of different pieces of advice – so how would I prioritise and decide what is the most important?

On reflection, I think I’d settle on ‘be clear’. If your reader can’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, nothing else really matters. And if it’s too difficult for them to work out your point, they’ll probably give up.

A close second is ‘use fewer words’. Which, of course, generally helps you to be clear.

And in  third place I’d go for one of Orwell’s six rules of good writing, ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous’. Can’t go wrong with that.

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