2 July 2013
The Mail on Sunday has published letter writing guidance which the British Minister responsible for Education emailed to his departmental staff. Apparently Michael Gove believes that the quality of official correspondence will be improved if those tasked with drafting letters adhere to his 10 golden rules. This is obviously a reversal of the practice of free and frank advice from officials to ministers. The Guardian republished the story yesterday.
Gove’s golden guidance:
1. If in doubt, cut it out.
2. Read it out loud – if it sounds wrong, don’t send it.
3. In letters, adjectives add little, adverbs even less.
4. The more the letter reads like a political speech the less good it is as a letter.
5. Would your mum understand that word, phrase or sentence? Would mine?
6. Read the great writers to improve your own prose – George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Matthew Parris and Christopher Hitchens.
7. Always use concrete words and phrases in preference to abstractions.
8. Gwynne’s Grammar is a brief guide to the best writing style.
9. Simon Heffer’s Strictly English is a more comprehensive – and very entertaining – companion volume.
10. Our written work should be the clearest, most elegant, and most enjoyable to read of any Whitehall department’s because the Department for Education has the best civil servants in Whitehall.
A debate about the grammatical correctness of the guidance now seems inevitable.