12 Rules for Writing

Dec 7, 2021

A teacher recently asked me for a list of writing rules I use as a professional editor. Grammatical mistakes aside, I find myself making the same edits consistently. In case you too want to clean up your writing – or your students – I've listed below the rules I use as a writer and editor. Some of these are stylistic, but assuming a somewhat formal context, they tend to universally apply. I hope you find them helpful!

1. Never use a big word when a simpler one will suffice. To do otherwise is loquacious. 

2. Never use many words when one will suffice. Using one fitting word is not pretentious but concise. 

3. Always prioritize clarity over tone. To attempt to sound smart at the expense of the reader is unkind. 

4. Always choose the most precise and accurate word. 

5. Remove prepositional phrases whenever possible. 

6. Only use “be verbs” when discussing states of being. Typically, “is” is used because the subject isn’t specified. See what I did there? 

7. Unless your reader knows you, do not begin a composition with the word “I.” The reader doesn’t yet care. 

8. Do not use the same subject multiple sentences in a row. 

9. Vary your sentence structure. 

10. Use adjectives sparingly. 

11.  Never use absolutes. 

12.  Always learn the rules before you break them. 


If you would like to learn more about editing, join Katerina this January in her six-week intensive, Editing Bootcamp. 

Katerina Kern

Katerina Kern

Katerina Kern has sought to make Classical Education accessible globally through teaching, consulting, writing, and speaking. She studied Fine Art, Art History, and Classics at UNC-Charlotte and the Liberal Arts at Oxford University, where she earned a Masters in Literature and the Arts. After teaching for five years in Uganda, she recently returned to the US and is an Adjunct Professor at Belmont Abbey Honors College and a Consultant, Researcher, and Editor for the Circe Institute. She particularly enjoys researching Medieval notions of Beauty, the 7 Liberal Arts, Memory, Cosmology, and Mariology. You can follow her research on twitter @RinasResearch. 

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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