Casting a clear light on good writing: the TORCH rule

Helicopter shining beam of light


Italian journalist and author Beppe Severgnini has come up with a rule for good writing. It’s the PORCO rule: Pensa, Organizza, Rigurgita, Correggi, Ometti (Ponder, Organise, Regurgitate, Correct, Omit).

I’m not mad about the PORCO rule because:

a) “Porco” is Italian for pig. Not the cute kind of pig you see in a film like Babe (for which the Italian would be maiale), more a filthy swine sort of pig. The Italian “vecchio porco” equates to “dirty old man”. ‘Nuff said.

b) Regurgitate = spewing up words all over the page or screen. Again, ’nuff said.

c) “PORCO” lacks affordance. That is, the word and its connotations don’t suggest what it’s for. Where’s the link between smelly swine, dirty old men and good writing? Or maybe I’m missing something?

d) Good writing is lean, concise and elegant. Not words you usually associate with pigs – even the cute ones. They tend to be flabby.

e) “Omitting” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Editing and excising, fine. But simply omitting can be a sin (as the Catholic Church and Labour Party leader Ed Milliband both know).

All of that said, here’s my TORCH rule to cast a clear light on good writing:

Think: about what you want to say. Marshall your ideas. Let them rest a bit.

Organise: your thoughts. Jot down a summary, your main headings. Or even just think them out in your head.

Restate: your (by now beautifully ordered) thoughts in written form.

Correct, Clarify and Clean up: Run a spell-check. Read through your text and clarify any words, phrases or sentences that might confuse your readers. Do a “find and replace” on things like double spaces between words (or after full stops!), spaces followed by a punctuation mark, etc.

Hone: sharpen, whittle and fine-tune your (preferably printed out, if you’re working on a computer) text to make it more incisive.

That’s it. Do you have any additional tips for clear and concise writing? Let us know in the comments!

Photo courtesy of Brian Digital

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By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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