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Satire: How to Write Good

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Recently, after having read one of my newspaper columns a co-worker asked me how I learned to write so good. While I’m not sure that how to write good is something that can be teached, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a few pointers for anyone who has a desire to improve his writing skills.

The first thing you should do is always use the male personal pronoun. In other words, instead of saying, “This is advice for anyone who wants to improve his or her writing skills, just say “…his writing skills.” Aside from avoiding the clumsy “his or her” construction, there are some women (mainly ones with hyphenated last names) who will be irritated by it, and that alone makes it worthwhile. Also, don’t worry about subject-verb number agreement. It’s perfectly okay to say “…anyone who wants to improve their writing skills,” because such usage is evidence that the writer was not really thinking about what he was writing, and too much thinking while writing is never a good
thing, as anyone who reads newspaper op-ed pages must realize.

Many people seem to have trouble with punctuation. The most misused punctuation mark, by far, is the apostrophe. My advice is to use the apostrophe indiscriminately, just as everyone else seems to do. If a word ends in “s” and you’re not sure whether to use an apostrophe or not, go ahead and throw one in. This is especially true of the word “its.” At last count there were only about ten people on earth who know the difference between “it’s” and “its.” Why worry about it?

The aspiring writer should never allow himself to be intimidated by big words. While at one time it was considered good form to use a dictionary and look up the meaning of a big word before using it, these days meaning is less important than the sheer mass of verbiage that you use. Thus you can refer to an ordinary abbreviation or initialization such as “YMCA” as an “acronym,” even though it is not an acronym and has never been an acronym. You would have no way of knowing that, though, unless you looked it up, and who has time for that?

In my local newspaper a few years ago, on the occasion of the opening of a new factory, a story was published about the grand opening festivities, which, according to the piece, included a “train that circumvents the warehouse.” While it may be that the train actually did avoid or elude the warehouse by way of a loophole, I doubt it, but what does it matter? The writer knew what he meant.

Contractions (like “it’s”) are another bit of sand in the ointment of good writing. Take my word for it, though, no one cares whether you say “your” or “you’re.” The sentence “Your not using you’re head” makes perfect sense to ninety percent of the population, so why bother trying to figure out which is correct?

Likewise, don’t worry about homophones. In the past few weeks in different publications I’ve seen instances of reporters writing about being in dire “straights” and having one’s curiosity “peaked.” Take a tip from the professionals: do your best to spell the word phonetically and get on with your life.

One of the main reasons that no one cares about how to write good anymore is that we now communicate a great deal via written messages on the internet, and because many people who use the internet can neither type nor spell, written communication has reverted to a language of abbreviations, hieroglyphics and the modern-day equivalent of cave painting. They use sideways pictures called “emoticons” such as {;>) which is supposed to represent a person smiling and winking. They don’t say that something is funny, they say “LOL” or “ROTFLMAO” (laugh out loud; rolling on the floor laughing my ass off). They also often refuse to use upper case letters–or use upper case exclusively–and punctuation of any kind, and call each other by weird names:

hey blamo ufabno (woo gitty) down by mr stankys lol—pigmeats gonna be their to

The result is that you have to read a message about 12 times in order to at least partially figure out what the sender was trying to say. It’s no wonder that people who spend hours every day communicating like this have trouble with formal English, imho.

So don’t let the fact that you know nothing about grammar, spelling and punctuation make you think that you can’t write good. The only rule left is that you should start at the beginning and make your way to the end by way of the middle, and if you apply yourself, the first thing you know yule be writing more better than myself. (LOL)

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About James Wynne

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Well job on this

  • Cathy

    Another way to write good is if you can’t find an appropriate verb, just use a noun, e.g. “let’s dialogue, Bob,” or “the church fellowshipped.” This is a good thing, really, as one noun can replace a multitude of verbs and will lead us onward to a shinningly ambiguous future: “I carred to work,” “Let’s TV,” “I booked.” Did he write a book? Read a book? Order plane tickets? File charges against a criminal? The world may never know.

  • Jim Wynne


    I intend to leverage that idea.

  • Duane

    This is a great article Jim. I should of read you’re article a long time ago because in my work I write technical papers and I waist a lot of time worrying about comma’s and semicolons’s and whatnot. Your saying that for all intensive purposes that one shouldn’t worry about there grammar so much just write what’s on you’re mind and every one will get the pitcher.

    When it come’s to grammar I was always taught to tow the line so I always had my thesuarus open to check my definitions and stuff. Like Cathy would say I thesuarused my way threw articles and I would feel badly for taking so long. Like my superviser would be waiting with baited breath, you know LOL. Its a doggy dog world out there an anyway to accelerate my speed like in you’re article really helps. I didn’t want to just make do ya know? I seen one guy he turned in a sloppy report and the superviser he says it would pass the mustard any way and the guy tells me he had the worse feeling. Any ways you layed some of my fears to rest.

    So, to synopsize, my comment’s, I say “here here!

  • Dawn

    Obviously Jim, you’ve been reading my articles. Thanks for the advice, I will keep up the good work :)

  • Mary K. Williams

    Awesome! Wicked wicked awesome! All graduates of the Derek Zoolander Institute for Kids Who Can’t Read Good will rejoice!

  • http://http/ DrPat

    Gosh, Jim, you passed completely on the strongest trend in communication: TLAs. Jargon is always a rich source for counter-communication, so CYA ASAP!

  • Jim Wynne

    But TLAs aren’t A’s, using “TLA” as an example. Now my head hurts.

  • gonzo marx







  • Jackie

    Love it!

  • Andy Marsh

    Thanks, I had to wipe OJ off the computer screen when I read the first line. That’s awesome! I think you mighta teached me sumpin’

  • Andy Marsh

    Actually, it was the second line…

  • SonnyD

    Jim: Loved it! Haven’t laughed that much for quite a while. Duane may have out dun ya, though. I have actually heard and read “intensive purposes” and “doggy dog world” just recently.

    My pet peeve is that NOone knows the difference between “less” and “fewer”. I don’t claim to know it all. Heck, I seldom write anything longer than my grocery list. But, a network news anchor should know something as simple as that. Words are the tools of their trade. Would you hire a plumber who couldn’t use a wrench or a carpenter who couldn’t use a hammer? How do these people even get a job?

    My other pet peeve is over-used phrases. It used to be “at this point in time” and now the latest is “in harm’s way”.

    I have to admit, I do take a wild guess at where to throw in that pesky comma sometimes.

  • Baronius

    We didn’t have problems like this before the liberals and homophones took over the country.

  • Andy Marsh

    I was gonna mention them too baronius…but I didn’t wanna start anything…

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    The title of you’re article its grammeratically rong–it shoud be: How to Write Goodly. Sorry I just cant leave Well enougf alone.

  • Baronius

    Cathy I agree that bothers me and so is the sentence with no punctuation but what REALY bothers me is the verb being used as a noun. Have you noticed that all reporters talk about “the disconnect” between things or people? Its “disconnection” you moron’s.

  • Jim Wynne

    Duane’s comment (#4) is funnier than my piece. You know that parody is good when you have a hard time distinguishing between it and the thing being parodied.

    Baronius: You are an obvious homophonic.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I keep an eye out for “signs” of the times. My favorites:
    “RE-GRAND OPENING” for stores under new management(I’ve seen a few of these).
    “Looking for KNOWLEDGABLE People”–Help Wanted sign at a bookstore, yet.

  • uao

    Me also like ur riting.

  • Gertrude

    Dear Duane,

    If UR going to rite, please get it st8t. It iz “intensive porpoises.” You should conversate better. UR nervousing me.

    Latah, fur sher!


  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    And it’s not “No man is an island,” it’s “No Mayonaise in Ireland.”

  • Mary K. Williams

    My husband’s pet peeve is ‘irregardless’ when people really mean to say ‘regardless’.

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Could you be Morse Pacific?

  • Mary K. Williams

    I dont no that i cud. this hole thing making me feel dum.

  • Guppusmaximus

    “I Booked(it)”…means that he or she ran,*Duh*(Probably from the police)LOL, J.K.

    Great Article,Jim… ILMFAO but DILLIGAFF cuz dis writin shizznat is fo da birdz.

  • Duane

    P’shaw Jim (#18). your post had an very intensive affect on me. Its one of my very most favorite subjects, although I’m not a grammatical expert by no means. Your post is comprised of several common writing mistakes which I’m constantly very amazed at. its very good to see some body whose very aware of the very detrimentil affects of writing very bad. I am re-ensured by that. That attention to word usage forms the nuculus of writing proper is clear to you and I as well as the other’s commenting here. And you and me share the wish that people that write in the pubic forum made less errors in there writing. Some things I read these days are simply beyond the pail. Ironic, isn’t it? Your post althrough it is a parity insures that at least a few people e.g. those that read the post, will loose there “I could care less’ attitude and write more better English the way God intended it to be.

    I don’t want to come on like a grammer Nazi or something. I admit I can, sometimes write, things that are unperfect. I may have made even a error or two in this very comment.

    OTOH there is this conception known as poetic license: heres an example from The Doors:

    “Now, I’m gonna love you
    Till the heavens stop the rain
    I’m gonna love you
    Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I.”

    But thats a whole nother very amazing subject.

  • Andy Marsh

    Holee mackral! this are gettin to be too much fun! All theze amazin righters rigthen all this kewl stuff on here is provin yer point to no end Jim!

    You really hit the thum with the hammer on this won Mr Win!

  • Mark Saleski

    has anybody written a book in “IM-speach” yet?

  • Mary K. Williams

    Ur sucha funny1 mark. gr8 comentz like thez make me PMP cuz laffing 2 hrd


  • Mark Saleski


  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Mark: ^_^

  • Mark Saleski

    that’s just wrong.

  • gonzo marx

    ok…now i’m getting this strange feeling that this entire Thread is some kind of poke at my own, bizzarre stylings of prose

    mebbe i’m just paranoid



  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Gonzo, did you happen to catch South Park last night, the one with Al Gore?

    His catch phrase made me think of you.

  • gonzo marx

    no Suss…i don’t watch that much TV

    what was it?


  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Indeed — he said it at least twice. Made me smile. Matt and Trey wrote that episode good.

    P.S. – Watch out for Manbearpig.

  • T. Lucas

    dic-shun-arrys like this don’t help, either.

    click link to see definition of KNOWLEDGABLE

    (you know, for the two whole people who are probably bothering to look anything up online . . .)

  • http://http/ DrPat

    OMG, I just fielded an email from a MANAGER notifying us that a “Janitoial Day Porter” has been hired to “be on sight dayly from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon.” The sender also urges us, “If you have any areas of concern regarding janitoral issues”, to get in touch.

    I wouldn’t have reacted (such errors being commonplace and expected now), but I had just finished reading the comments here…

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    TL#38–Revivionist spelling, yet! How revisionary!

  • Jim Wynne

    True story: I had a manager once who became concerned at what he perceived as the sloppiness of letters and memos authored by his people. He sent out a memo of his own on the subject, and ended it by saying, “Please be aware that what you write and how you write it reflects on our department–please be carfule!”

  • Guppusmaximus

    “….from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon.”
    Yeah, like you might confuse that with 1:00p.m. to 3:00p.m. in the morning….lol.

  • Greg

    I absolutely loved reading this article. Well done.

  • Jim Wynne

    Thanks, Greg.

  • Anonymous

    I read up to: “My advice is to use the apostrophe indiscriminately, just as everyone else seems to do. If a word ends in “s” and you’re not sure whether to use an apostrophe or not, go ahead and throw one in.”

    No, no, no! If you do that you confuse the educated people that actually know where to use an apostrophe, and where not to!

    Really, to be a good writer, one should know one’s language; especially the grammar/punctuation. “Why?” you may ask. Because one little piece of punctuation – such as a comma – can completely change the meaning of what you’re talking about, it can change the way the words in one sentence are related to words in another sentence.

    My advice: read “Eats shoots and leaves” by Lynne Truss. I learnt a lot from that book, and it’s quite funny.

  • virginia woolf

    you do write so good. well job.

  • mr bean

    You shoudnt poke fun at all them people who’s English isnt so good as your’s. You think your better or somthing? I mean, realy, you might of had less problems in you’re lifes and didn’t get no bad grades so your lucky. Alot of people arent so privliged. Linguistic elitism never done nobody no good.

  • Lizzen

    Hilarious, but I am seriously in pain here. I feel as though I’m being stabbed in the “Grammar Center” of my brain whenever I come across a “we seen” or “we was” and the like. I think my “Punctuation Center” is under attack as well.

    By the way, though witty and informative in its own way, “Eats Shoots and Leaves” only instructs on BRITISH grammar and punctuation. Yes, there ARE differences between American and British punctuation and spelling and so on. I honestly think the book may have done more harm than good on this side of the pond.

    Who, oh who will save us from our certain destruction? Is there an English savior on the horizon?

    Oh, right. We have those. They’re called “teachers.” Perhaps we should pay them better.

  • Ivory

    I just want to say although your article is probably well written, some people may not choose to read it because of your improper use of good in the title. It should be well.

  • Jim Wynne


    “good” was was used ironically.

  • Sigh…

    I completely disagree with this. And YMCA is an acronym.

    But it’s lovely that the writer only used grammatical errors ironically.

  • duane

    Jim’s right, as usual. YMCA is an abbreviation. Acronyms are something more specialized. NASA is an acronym because you pronounce it as a word. YMCA would be an acronym if people said “im-kuh” or “wime-kah” or something like that.

  • hmm…


    “How to Write Good”

    How To Write Well.


  • Bridgette

    Wow, this article is really good. It was funny, and completly true. This writer is truely amazing.

  • Rebecca

    any1 want to way in on the use of at — like where you at?

  • laura

    hi. actually, it’s a grammar rule that you can follow ‘anyone’, ‘someone’, and ‘everyone’ with a plural pronoun or a singular pronoun. another thing, i kind of disagree with you about your comment that writers should not think so hard. a written piece of work should always be intelligent, otherwise, why read it? good writers use grammar or the lack of grammar, words, and punctuations to drive home a point.

    another thing, i think it’s ‘how to write well’ not really ‘good’. well is an adverb while good is an adjective.

  • Jim Wynne


    Are you familiar with the concepts of sarcasm and irony?



  • SchoolBoy

    Thanks for this!
    I’m doing a satirical essay and this will definitely help.

  • cj

    I expeshaly like 2b reading this arctical. everebody did a good job.

  • Tim J

    Cootos on the articul. I aint got no URL to post. Had a nayber name a Earl oncst. That was durn funny! I kin rite OK; I jus caint cypher. Ef ya caint cypher, yer gonna hav problims. Ennyway, Yule probly win won of them there Wurlitzer prizes ur sompin fer this articul. I was wandering around Google looking for ways to get started in the writing biz and ran across your website. I had a good laugh. If you know anyone looking to break in a rookie, let me know.