Vardibidian's comments on The Elements of Style indirectly brought to mind George Orwell's 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language." Which in turn led me to notice that I had never posted the bits of that piece that I particularly like, though I did once post a link to the essay.
I tend to roll my eyes at Orwell's comments about the "slovenliness" and "decline" of English, but I think the specific guidelines he suggests are good ones, especially for writing nonfiction. Especially if you consider them to be guidelines rather than rules. I have the following, excerpted from the essay, pinned to the wall above my desk at work:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. [Or: "Omit needless words." --Jed]
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.