In the past few months, Education Secretary Michael Gove, a former journalist, has hit the front page with his plans to introduce new grammar and spelling tests in UK schools. Now he is back in the headlines:
These headlines announce Gove’s new venture of banning jargon from the department’s correspondence and giving advice on how to write properly by introducing 10 golden rules:
1. If in doubt, cut it out.
2. Read it out loud – if it sounds wrong, don’t send it.
3. In letters, adjectives add little, adverbs even less.
4. The more the letter reads like a political speech the less good it is as a letter.
5. Would your mum understand that word, phrase or sentence? Would mine?
6. Read the great writers to improve your own prose – George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Matthew Parris and Christopher Hitchens.
7. Always use concrete words and phrases in preference to abstractions.
8. Gwynne’s Grammar is a brief guide to the best writing style.
9. Simon Heffer’s Strictly English is a more comprehensive – and very entertaining – companion volume.
10. Our written work should be the clearest, most elegant, and most enjoyable to read of any Whitehall department’s because the Department for Education has the best civil servants in Whitehall.
In my opinion some of the rules, in particular rule no. 6, sound a bit far-fetched. Reading Jane Austen and George Orwell will definitely have a positive influence on one’s literacy and education. Yet, Jane Austen’s Emma and a formal letter from the department of education are two completely different text types.
What do you think? Are Michael Gove’s 10 golden rules helpful?