How to Write – Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard

Everyone approaches writing differently, some revel in the use of language whilst others take a more stripped back approach, trying to get out of the way of the world they’re creating and the story they’re telling.

Elmore Leonard was a brilliant and stylish writer; his stated aim was to make himself invisible, but, in doing so, he developed an elegant, apparently simple style that was unmistakeable his own.

In 2001 Elmore wrote a piece for the New York Times in which he laid out, very simply, his ten rules for good writing.

‘These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.’ Elmore Leonard

You can read the rules in full here, but, for now, here are the basic principles. Use them wisely.

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Elmore’s most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

How to Write – David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy
The ability to communicate effectively is a precious commodity, one that should be cherished and nurtured constantly. So any good advice on how to improve is worth revisiting at any time.
Back in the 1980’s advertising legend David Ogilvy sent the following internal memo, titled “How to Write,” to all his Ogilvy & Mather employees.
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather.
People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing*. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification,attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


*Writing That Works, by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson

Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners

So, what makes for a beautiful intranet in 2014?


Digital Workplace Group have announced the winners of My Beautiful Intranet 2014, their competition to promote and celebrate the use of good design in the creation of engaging, inspiring, usable and adaptive internal websites.

This year’s winners include Verizon and Adobe (both pictured below) and you can see screenshots  and read more about them here.

Usefully, having reviewed all the competition entries, DWG have been able to identify a list of what they consider to be the ideal attributes of a successful intranet, and a pretty good list it is:

  1. Clean, non-distracting visual design.
  2. Responsive design for mobile device access.
  3. User-friendly navigation.
  4. Personalized content.
  5. Integration of social features.
  6. Integration of other enterprise systems (e.g. HR portal).
  7. A balance of news, social and task-based content on the homepage.




Towards the end of last year, Paul Miller, CEO and Founder of DWG, shared his thoughts on what would happen in the digital workplace industry during 2014.

As we approach the mid-point of the year, and following the release of the competition results, revisiting the predictions makes interesting reading and still provides a good overview as to how the best digital solutions are being developed and implemented around the world.

  1.  Across intranets, collaboration and the wider digital workplace the emphasis will be on robust execution, stable connection and enterprise systems that actually work 24/7.
  2.  Digital workplaces will extend the connections between staff and customers – and blur the line between “inside” and “outside” the modern digitized organization.
  3. The reach of intranet and wider digital workplace services, via mobile phones and tablets, will embrace the “digitally disenfranchised”, with dramatic, empowering consequences.
  4. Intranet, collaboration and digital workplace managers and teams will be front and centre for the “C Suite” leadership because they have rare skills.
  5. The social intranets phase is now “business as usual” – but the participatory, conversational model will extend its reach.
  6. Beauty, fabric and texture (the look and feel) in digital enterprise services will drive adoption.
  7. Training, hand-holding and patience will characterize success stories for new intranet, collaboration and digital workplace roll-outs.
  8. The “revenge of the office” (home workers feeling isolated and missing out on quality services) will be felt through new physical workplace formats (more, smaller offices, nearer to home).
  9. Advanced intranets will integrate publishing and collaboration in one environment. (The services we use most will be presented in a single integrated digital world in a similar way on the desktop, mobile or in the enterprise cloud).
  10. Leadership will increasingly treat the digital workplace as the digital backbone for its leadership style and impact.

Let’s hear it for ‘the horse’s mouth’.

from the horses mouthOnce upon a time the best place to get accurate, authentic information about some thing, or some one, was to go direct to the source. But, over time, people have become suspicious of many of these sources; whether it’s governments, businesses or the media.

For a while we relied upon intermediaries to help us find the truth. But  journalism and PR have now become more interested in selling things and promoting their agendas rather than giving us the real story.

Social tools – blogs, Facebook, twitter etc. – seem to be changing that. These forms of direct contact now bring us back within ear-shot of the horse’s mouth and once again we are listening.

But there are risks.

Social media have given everyone a voice. Find yourself a keyboard and, reasonable or not, informed or not, honest or not, you can have your say. That’s a powerful and valuable opportunity.

‘Savvy’ users know how to get their story out, but there is no obligation for anyone to tell the whole story or even the truth. The power of social communications therefore relies on the balancing effect of the community; the correcting post or the critical tweet is an essential element in rounding out the picture and creating a fuller understanding of the issues.

But, we are in danger of letting the voices we want to hear become drowned out by the neighing and braying of the herd. Trolls and bullies hide behind anonymous pseudonyms and bring nothing to the conversation but attention seeking, mischief and, all to often, outright viciousness.

Everyone has a voice now and everyone has the opportunity to shape the conversation. So, we all have a choice to make, act like a thoroughbred or behave like a horse’s ass.

A Stylistic Survey of Graphic Design

This beautiful hand-illustrated poster from Pop Chart Lab documents the history of Graphic Design from the Victorian era into the modern digital age. Each key style of graphic expression is represented by its respective design elements, sorted into movements tracing back nearly 200 years.

In the words of Pop Chart Lab – ‘From the finials and fronds of Art Nouveau through the Weimar utility of the Bauhaus to the taxonomical, sense-making project of Data Visualization, this survey of stylistics is a paean to patterns of composition, and an amazing contextual tool for design-lovers.’ And very lovely it is too!