Category Archives: style; principles of writing

proverbs from Roger’s writing lair (with a nod to Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”)




Simple, declarative sentences are not necessarily better than complex ones; the converse is equally true.

Clarity is a desideratum, but it is not necessarily a bad thing to challenge the reader.

Loose verbiage is not a hallmark of good writing — pruning is desirable; but, shorter is not always better. (Nor is the most concise style a prioi the best one.)

Objectivity and balance are often desirable, but not at the cost of dullness; the opposite, a fulsome, over the top, raging screed, is usually not worth reading.

Subtlety and irony can be as desirable as making one’s point bluntly and forcefully; it depends.

No argument can stand on its own without support by way of evidence, details, illustrative examples, etc.; and, explication.

Vagueness and fuzziness are to be avoided; but abstractions and abstract words do not, per se, amount to the same thing.

It is not necessarily a fault to digress, or to yoke disparate topics in a single piece. (But one should avoid the possibility of the reader getting lost or confused.)

Speaking directly to the reader and/or making an abstract argument more personal are not “wrong.”

Draw upon your own experience where appropriate.

Sentence fragments can work, if used sparingly, in the right place (but not abused).

Punctuation should not be dispensed with merely for the sake of convenience.

Comma splices are almost always an avoidable and unjustifiable error.

Adverbs can be overused, but they are not necessarily “bad”; it depends. (The same can be said for adjectives.)

Vulgarity is almost always a mistake.

Connectives such as moreover, however, and on the contrary are essential and desirable for coherence, but they can be overused; coherence can often be achieved in more subtle ways.

Filler words and qualifiers such as as it were and so to speak can often serve a purpose.

Emphasis is key; it is not always or merely a matter of putting the key idea at the end.

Time honored grammar rules should be heeded and not ignored simply out of ignorance or on account of laziness or political correctness.

Fifty cent words are not verboten; recherché words and foreign terms should not necessarily be shunned.

Clichés are not always bad.

Good writers are allowed to break the rules, but first they must know them.


— Roger W. Smith

    January 2019


regarding Professor Strunk’s admonition, “Omit Needless Words.” (or, are long, complex sentences bad?)




Should long, complex sentences be considered, a priori, evidence of bad writing? Ask Samuel Johnson. Or practically any other great writer one can think of.

Sometimes the shortest sentences can be extremely powerful: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

But, note what Professor Brooks Landon has to say in his lecture ““Grammar and Rhetoric” (lecture 2, “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft”; The Great Courses/The Teaching Company).



… unless the situation demands otherwise, sentences that convey more information are more effective than those that convey less. Sentences that anticipate and answer more questions that a reader might have are better than those that answer fewer questions. Sentences that bring ideas and images into clearer focus by adding more useful details and explanation are generally more effective than those that are less clearly focused and that offer fewer details. In practice, this means that I generally value longer sentences over shorter sentences as long as the length accomplishes some of those important goals I’ve just mentioned.

Many of us have been exposed over the years to the idea that effective writing is simple and direct, a term generally associated with Strunk and White’s legendary guidebook The Elements of Style, or we remember some of the slogans from that book, such as, “Omit needless words.” … [Stunk concluded] with this all important qualifier: “This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.” … Strunk’s concern is specifically with words and phrases that do not add propositions to the sentence [e.g., “owing to the fact that” instead of “since”].”

… simple does not mean simplistic. Direct does not mean short. And, simple and direct does not mean that we should all write like Ernest Hemingway in a hurry. “Omit needless words” is great advice, but not when it gets reduced to the belief that shorter is always better, or that “needless” means any word without which the sentence can still make sense.

… I like Faulkner, as well as I like Hemingway. And, I’d like to believe that even Professor Will Strunk and certainly E. B. White would not have tried to edit Faulkner out of existence.

… Strunk and White do a great job of reminding us to avoid needless words, but they don’t begin to consider all of the ways in which more words might actually be needed. … in many cases, we need to add words to improve our writing … rather than trying to pare our writing down to some kind of telegraphic minimum.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2017







from Wikipedia


Jesus wept (Greek: ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, edákrysen o Iesoús lit. “Jesus shed tears”) is a phrase famous for being the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible, as well as many other versions. It is not the shortest in the original languages. It is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35.

This verse occurs in John’s narrative of the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus’ sisters – Mary and Martha – sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness and impending death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus died. Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’ friends weeping, was deeply troubled and moved.