In response to James Forsyth, "The Gove guide to composition", The Spectator 6/30/2013, Tom Chivers notes that "Michael Gove doesn't know what the passive voice is", The Telegraph 7/1/2013. If you read the exchange, you'll see that Tom Chivers is right: Michael Gove advises against use of the "passive voice", citing an example that is in fact not passive at all — while using the passive voice frequently, correctly, and appropriately, including in the first sentence of the letter introducing his guide to composing letters.
But I want to point out a subtler form of self-refutation in the Gove Guide. Consider this paragraph:
Politeness requires getting the name of the correspondent correct and maintaining a sympathetic tone. It does not require a writing style modelled on Leonard Sachs from “The Good Old Days” or Sir Humphrey in “Yes, Minister”. Using inflated political rhetoric of the “first may I say how much I care about X” is not polite. It is a time-wasting exercise in self-regarding pomposity. So don’t even go there. Instead use direct, clear and vigorous language. Make the paragraph the unit of composition. Devote one paragraph to each topic. And one sentence to each idea within that topic. Ideally, every sentence should introduce the topic of the paragraph. And the concluding sentence should return to, or summarise, that theme. Use the active, not the passive voice. Ministers have decided to increase spending on the poorest children. Poorer children are not having a harder time under this Government. Cut out unnecessary words. For example, rather than writing “the policy that we are introducing is intended to drive a change in behaviours on the part of teachers with respect to the poorest and most disadvantaged children and young people” say “the policy will change how teachers behave towards poorer students”. And make the most emphatic point at the end of a sentence. For example, instead of saying, “the coalition government, which has been an unprecedented historic success, was formed in May three years ago”, write “the coalition government, formed three years ago this May, has been an unprecedented historic success”. The more care you take over elegant composition, the greater the compliment you pay the correspondent.
Then ask yourself how well this paragraph carries out the advice that's embedded in it:
Devote one paragraph to each topic. And one sentence to each idea within that topic. Ideally, every sentence should introduce the topic of the paragraph. And the concluding sentence should return to, or summarise, that theme.
You might also ponder the logical implications of the dictum that "every sentence should introduce the topic of the paragraph".
I'll close by adding to the world's accumulated pile of writing advice, paraphrasing Thomas J. Watson, this one-word guide:
(It's the period at the end that's my original contribution.)