It struck me that every writer needs guidelines to stick to when composing a piece of work. With that in mind, I quickly scribbled some out below, which are to be used in conjunction with The Economist Style Guide and George Orwell’s essay on political writing. They’re to be taken in good humour, and read with a critical eye.
When introducing a topic, there are four options: introduce a character who has been affected by the broader topic, use an interesting quotation about it, make a geographical observation (building or landscape) or get straight to the point about how the subject relates to the reader.
It may be tempting to use other introductions. For example, a recent event may have parallels with the topic, or a historical observation may be of interest. This is risky, and if used, should be linked straight back to the person profiled in the piece; a person or the people affected by whatever the piece is about; or the reader.
Observations about body language and mannerisms can be important parts of an interview. Animals also make good comparisons, especially if used to make a good humoured remark. Be cautious when making a disparaging remark – make sure it is fair and not vituperative. Unless they’re just an arsehole.
Any observation about a person should be combined with an explanation of why this affects what they are saying: they may become agitated when discussing a particularly difficult part of their career or another colleague. Alternatively, it may back up your ultimate argument about someone: they may constantly change the subject and have a mind like a moth in a disco.
Every piece should have an argument, either about a person or about a topic. It should contain the reason for reading the piece, the background information about the topic, the present day issues, and any future observations. In that order.
Often, while a different structure may appear better suited for an argument, it will be a variation on the above theme. For example, it may be that there is little background, and much more to be discussed about the future.
Do not be flash for the sake of being flash. No-one likes a show off.
The reader does not care about you. Unless the argument of the piece is that they should.
Don’t use gimmicky punctuation or grammar. Write clearly, in the active tense, and make your points. Then finish.