The following was posted on Facebook in a group called “Kasper Rocks.” It’s a group dedicated to a beloved high school English teacher. If I can write anything at all it is because of his influence. When I screw up it is due to residual muck from the other 10 years of public school I did not take Dan Kasper. (Coach K)
Here is his list of writing rules: I’m 31 years old and I still refer to this list. I was happy to find a digital copy as mine from 1994 was getting ugly.
1) Check for status errors, there, there; its, it’s
2) Check the numbers rules:
a) use words for nine and under
b) use numerals over nine
c) use numerals whenever numbers are significant
d) be consistent whatever you do
e) never start a sentence with a numeral
f) hyphenated numbers are written out
3) Avoid constructions using former and latter. They’re confusing.
4) He/him not he/she. “He” is inclusive; “she” is exclusive.
5) Avoid “hopefully” as adverb unless it modifies verb. “Hopefully, I won’t fail the research paper.” This is incorrect.
6) Avoid “nice,” “seems,” (unless followed by a “but”), “nature,” (unless it’s the birds), “thing” (always a more precise word), and “a lot.”
7) Avoid lousy adverbs: “very,” “definitely,” “absolutely,” “really,” “beautifully.”
8) Avoid abbreviations.
9) Start a paragraph short, end it that way. A short quick jab is more deadly than a haymaker.
10) After a long, complicated sentence follow with a short one.
11) Never have more than three sentences of the same length in a row.
12) Check the verbs of each paragraph; never use the same one more than twice.
13) Check pronouns- he, she, it, they, who, whom, which, that—make sure the noun they refer to in obvious. Never use the same one more than two sentences in a row.
14) Check semicolons and colons. Semicolons replace “and,” “but,” or a period. Colons qualify under four conditions: a list, a quotation longer than one sentence, replaces “for example,” and the rare here-it-comes colon.
15) Treat contradictions like kisses; use sparingly.
16) Avoid ending paragraphs with someone else’s words. Leave them laughing, crying, or swearing at your own words.
17) Keep person consistent. Check subject of first paragraph. Do you maintain that person, number, and gender throughout?
18) Write in simple sentences- present and past. When “have hads,” and “to be ables,” slip into the paper crispness melts.
19) Whenever you can, change clause to phrase.
20) Eliminate as many prepositional phrases as possible. Most padding occurs here.
21) Avoid “is when” constructions.
22) “Like” is a verb or preposition not a conjunction. Shakespeare’s play is As You Like it, not Like You Like It.
23) None is singular. So is everyone, someone, and no one.
24) The rule about –’s. If word ends in –s and is one syllable, add ‘s. If more than one syllable just add an apostrophe. (Ives’s vs. Dickens’)
25) Shall and will. I or we shall; you will; he, she, it will. Unless a command—Thou shalt (shall) not have strange gods before me.
26) Maxims, proverbs, and truisms do not get quotation marks.
27) Was vs. Were. “were” whenever wish, doubt, or contrary to fact, is singular as well as plural. “If I were you,” or “I wish I were home for Christmas.” “If … was” is correct only if true statement: “If it was cold, you needed a jacket.”
28) A dash—indicates an abrupt change of though—you probably know this already—or it means “namely,” “inother words, ” or “that is.” It was a close call—he nearly caught us.
29) A parentheses merely encloses incidental explanation that is added to a sentence that is not vital. Avoid them.
30) Brackets are additions that the author makes directly to the reader that is not a part of the piece. Ex.- It [the trophy] honored him. Usually reserve for quotations when the citation itself has a word that needs explanation.
31) Paper should read as it would if you wrote it to your best friend.
32) Check the first paragraph and the last. Is one related to the other? All good writing is cyclical.
33) Check the last sentence of each paragraph. Do they clinch anything?