Alex Massie

Heffer’s Style Notes

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This is good: the Daily Telegraph has published Simon Heffer's back-catalogue of style notes in which, with exasperated patience, he points out the paper's mistakes. Read too many of them and you might form the impression that the Telegraph no longer employs sub-editors. Nevertheless, Heffer's advice is mostly good and, I'm pleased to see, the subject of a new book.

I particularly enjoyed the note which began:

There are many reasons to avoid using long sentences when writing. An obvious one is that the message is transmitted to the readers most easily when it is concise. Another is that an array of clauses can sometimes cause confusion. When we wrote that "on Thursday, the body of 45-year-old darts fan Philip Hughes, from Slough, was recovered from beneath ice in a frozen lake in Fimley Green, Surrey, where he had been watching the BDO darts world championships" we reported something not only tragic but also remarkable. (The championship, by the way, is held at Frimley Green, not Fimley Green; and style dictates that we should have called the unfortunate man "Philip Hughes, a 45-year-old darts fan".) In the same vein, we wrote before Christmas that "the Queen sent a letter of condolence to a pensioner whose dog died after he wrote to Buckingham Palace about the death," which was remarkable in a different way. Shorter sentences would have obviated both of these problems.

And finished:

Finally, when writing picture captions, be alert to what is in the picture. We had an "autograph hunter" standing with Catherine Zeta Jones who was, in fact (and as scores of our readers informed us), her very famous father-in-law, Kirk Douglas.

Great stuff in the grandest "there but for the grace of God" sense.

Read Heffer's most recent note here.

[Hat-tip: Paul Waugh]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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