LOL! I had no idea there were humor rules. It’s funny really because I’ve been working so hard to be funny in my writing and now I learn the rules. You’re killing me! That’s a rule right there….K.

Here’s an example of a sentence using the Rule of Three: Losing weight is simple: Eat less, exercise more and pay NASA to let you live in an anti-gravity chamber.

ba-dum-DUM

Now that I know these tips, I can get a real job as a writer. That’s sarcasm. That doesn’t always work according to the rules. Still, I’m a new man. I’m all dressed up with somewhere to go.

Please read this list and try it in your own writing or draw a picture of your favorite cartoon character. Huh!

Learning the Basics of Humor
Let’s be clear: The goal in adding some humor to your nonfiction project is not about becoming the next Erma Bombeck or David Sedaris (unless that’s your dream). The goal is to improve your writing by using all the tools available to you, including comedy. Imagine where the original authors of the For Dummies book franchise would be today if they hadn’t decided to take a lighthearted approach.

Whether or not you consider yourself a funny person, it’s not as difficult as you might think to put humor to work for you. I’ve found that the easiest and best ways of doing so boil down to five simple comedic tools.

1. THE K RULE
It may sound strange, but it’s true: Words with the k sound (Cadillac, quintuplet, sex) are perceived as the funniest, and words with a hard g (guacamole, gargantuan, Yugo) create almost as many grins.

2. THE RULE OF THREE
Writing comedy usually requires establishing a pattern (with the setup) and then misdirecting the reader (with the punch line). One simple way of doing this is to pair two like ideas in a list and then add a third, incongruent, idea.

Here’s the example of a sentence using the Rule of Three from above: Losing weight is simple: Eat less, exercise more and pay NASA to let you live in an anti-gravity chamber.

3. THE COMPARISON JOKE
As writers, we’re comfortable with metaphors, so think of comparison jokes as simply metaphors chosen specifically for comedic effect. Here’s an example from the late Robert Schimmel’s memoir Cancer on $5 a Day* (*Chemo Not Included):

To craft a comparison joke, simply brainstorm metaphors and then choose the one that is funniest and makes the point well.

3. THE CLICHÉ JOKE
If comedy relies on misdirection, what better way to achieve it than with a phrase your readers already know? If you write, “You can lead a horse to water …” every reader will assume you’re going to finish with “… but you can’t make him drink.” Taking the cliché elsewhere can be both attention-grabbing and amusing. Take the title of Sarah Snell Cooke’s Credit Union Times article about a credit union initiative dubbed THINK: “You Can Lead a Horse to Water But You Can’t Make Him THINK.”

5. FUNNY ANECDOTES AND STORIES
Most of the things we laugh at in real life are true stories, sometimes exaggerated for effect. In fact, experts say we laugh far more at these types of everyday happenings than at “jokes.”

Putting It Into Practice
Now you’ve got five basic comedic tools in your arsenal, and you’re ready to put them to use in your work. As with trying anything new, you don’t want to overdo it and come on too strong, but you don’t want to stifle your creativity, either. Here are five ways to effectively apply what you’ve learned to any kind of nonfiction work:

1.    BE STRATEGIC. Don’t scatter jokes willy-nilly; instead, think of humor as parenthetical information. Many nonfiction writers find the best places to integrate humor are in titles, sidebars, visual illustrations or cartoons, and anecdotes to illustrate their points.

2.    USE IT SPARINGLY. Unless you’re writing about an inherently funny topic, you should limit the humor you use to selective references.

3.    KEEP YOUR FOCUS IN MIND. Be sure your use of humor doesn’t distract from or demean the true purpose of your project.

4.    LET YOUR READERS KNOW YOU’RE LAUGHING. When using humor in writing about a difficult subject—your own illness, for example—your first responsibility is to give your readers permission to laugh.

5.    STEER CLEAR OF SARCASM. This humor style may work in some arenas, but many readers find it hurtful and mean, and because it often relies on tone, it can be especially hard to pull off in writing.