Writing Advice from Strunk, White, and Orwell: “Avoid Fancy Words”

By Jack Limpert

A letter to the editor in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Using Fancy Words Gratuitously
I wish journalists would heed the advice in “The Elements of Style,” Strunk and White’s classic book on writing, which includes “avoid fancy words.” Despite this sound advice, journalists continue to bombard us with foreign phrases just to let us know that they are highly intelligent. Does it ever occur to them that most of their readers won’t know what the fancy words mean?

What Journalists Can Learn from Sports

By Jack Limpert

This is a wonderful time of year for sports fans—college basketball is at its best, the NBA and NHL are heading to the playoffs, the baseball season is about to begin, Masters golf at Augusta. The competition is fun to watch, and I’ve always thought sports can give kids some good life lessons—especially the importance of teamwork and how to deal with winning and losing.

Ten Favorite Quotes About Writing

By Ray E. Boomhower


John Bartlow Martin wrote 17 books; his early journalism won many awards.

“I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.”
—A.J. Liebling

“Good editing has saved bad writing more often than bad editing has harmed good writing. This is because a bad editor will not keep his job for long, but a bad writer can, and will, go on forever.”
—Gardner Botsford

“People Said Hello, Gossiped, Laughed”

By Jack Limpert

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The cubicle newsroom: Very quiet, not much walking around. Photograph courtesy of Flickr.com.

The biggest environmental change in journalism over the past 20 years? The noise level. The journalists I talk with seem about equally split between loving today’s peace and quiet and finding it strange and eerie.

In the pre-digital days, you walked into a newsroom and people said hello, gossiped, laughed. Now hardly anyone looks up from their screen.

Politico, headquartered in Washington, is a new breed of newsroom and an editor there describes it this way: “It’s about 200 people, all lined up in cubicles, and you can sometimes be sitting there and there’s not a single sound in the whole room.”

Bulletin Board Notes—About Washington

When they feel the heat, they see the light. —Senator Everett Dirksen

If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it. —President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Don’t squat with your spurs on.  —Senator Alan Simpson

Life breaks all of us, but some of us emerge stronger in the broken places. —Senator Max Cleland

It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it. —President George W. Bush

The best audience is intelligent, well-educated, and slightly drunk. —Vice President Alben Barkley

If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would be “President can’t swim.” —President Lyndon B. Johnson

What Do You Say to a Queen—or a Prince?

By Jack Limpert

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Before becoming a best-selling author, Simon Winchester had some fun in The Washingtonian.

Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, are in the United States and today are visiting the White House. They will go on to see Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage, then split up for a variety of Washington meetings with congressional leaders and the public. Prince Charles, 66, would become king if his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who will be 89 on April 21, steps aside.

When an Editor—or Any Journalist—Needs a Friend

By Jack Limpert

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The editor and his dog: No deadlines, lots of long walks.

John Fischer, the respected editor of Harper’s in the 1960s, said that an editor at work has no friends. You are there only to please the reader. You say no a lot—almost always to PR and ad people, often to writers, sometimes to publishers.

It can wear you down. Caroline Miller, once the editor of New York magazine, told me the most dangerous time of day for her was late afternoon when she was tired and didn’t have the energy to say no. I learned the hard way that when you’re not sure if it should be a yes or a no, say no. You usually can change a no to a yes, but once you say yes, it’s hard to reverse it.

What I Learned in 40 Years as an Editor

Writers are more important than editors.

A Small Town Sheriff’s Log and a Big City Crime Report

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 5.12.24 PMThe Silver State Post in the Montana town of Deer Lodge (population 3,111) publishes a weekly Sheriff’s Log. A few years ago, Larry Van Dyne, a Washingtonian writer, saw the paper in his travels out west and brought back the Sheriff’s Log. Here was one day in Deer Lodge:

Covering Selma With a Camera: “You Didn’t Go Anywhere Alone”

By Phil Sandlin

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Phil Sandlin, after being told to get a haircut, covered the Selma march for UPI.

Those of us at the Edmund Pettus bridge 50 years ago didn’t know what the impact of the event would be on our nation. And, quite frankly, those journalists covering Selma were more intent on getting the story right and the pictures in focus than in history. Just getting back to our motels from the march was a concern to all of us.