Herbert Sidebotham’s rules of writing

Good writing is an important part of good communications, and there is plenty of advice out there about how to do it well.

As well as a huge number of books on the subject, various writers have set out rules for writing that have helped them. Perhaps the best known examples are the rules of  Orwell and Hemingway, and this reflects how language developed over time but the principles of good writing don’t.

I came across an even older set of writing rules when researching a biography I wrote of Basil Clarke.

More about reviewing your work than writing it in the first place, they were developed about a century ago by the journalist Herbert Sidebotham.

After Sidebotham had finished writing an  article, he would always ask himself three questions:

  • Is that exactly what I meant to say, neither more nor less?
  • Could any person – wise man, knave or fool – construe it to mean anything different from what I meant to say, either more or less?
  • Could I have made it more easy for the reader to understand what I meant him to understand?

I think they are useful for communicators to bear in mind when reviewing their work, and perhaps even more relevant in the age of social media than when Sidebotham developed them.

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