Carrot beats stick

What does Jacob Rees-Mogg know about good writing?
Samuel Pollen
by Samuel Pollen

Jacob Rees-Mogg's new style guide won't improve anyone's writing

Sam P has a letter in City A.M. today, about the style guide that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Leader of the House of Commons, has circulated to his staff.

TL;DR – we aren't big fans.

My day job is to help organisations improve their writing. So I was interested to hear about the style guide that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP gave to his new parliamentary staff. The memo bans the word ‘very’ – a common bugbear for language snobs. Why say ‘very cold’, the argument goes, when you can say ‘glacial’? But ‘very’ has a key advantage: almost everyone understands it. That makes it very useful indeed. Rees-Mogg also outlaws commas after ‘and’. On Twitter, people leapt in to defend Oxford commas – but those come before ‘and’. Perhaps Rees-Mogg should follow another of his rules: ‘CHECK your work’. Meanwhile, the memo insists on double spaces after full stops (or ‘fullstops’ as Rees-Mogg wrote, mistakenly). This might have been useful in the age of typewriters, which often printed slightly askew. But it’s been unnecessary for decades – unless, of course, you write on an antique typewriter, which Rees-Mogg probably does. Writing – particularly when it comes from government – should be clear and accessible. That means reflecting the way people actually communicate, rather than the way you want them to. At our agency, we find people write better when you give them confidence and inspiration, rather than a list of pointless, outdated rules you can’t even follow yourself.

If you're interested in writing advice that is more carrot, less stick, we'd love to hear from you.

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