6 writing rules that keep your readers reading

A classic essay on journalism offers tips for communicators. For starters, get the name of the dog.

A scoundrel with a bowling ball and a three-legged dog forever defined one of the rules of good writing.

Some years ago a man tied a bowling ball to the neck of a fluffy, white mutt and threw it into Tampa Bay. The dog thrashed up to the surface and was rescued, but the story recounting it felt unsatisfying without the poor creature’s name, says author and writing guru Roy Peter Clark.

Hence his rule: Get the name of the dog. Get the details that tell.

Clark makes the point in a classic essay, “The American Conversation and the Language of Journalism.” In it, he describes the language of journalism in a series of points that, rephrased, can serve as guidelines for corporate and government communicators.

1. Be concrete and specific.

The St. Petersburg Times, which covered the dog story, requires reporters to “get the name of the dog, the brand of the beer, the color and make of the sports car,” Clark writes.

Corporate writers often forget this. An online profile of one executive vaguely recounts his passion for helping clients improve earnings through revenue growth.

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