This week I’m sharing good words on writing from others. Today’s wisdom comes from George Orwell. In his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language,’ he criticized the bad habits of many writers and promoted the use of clear language.
In that essay, Orwell provided the following list of rules for writers.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Some people I meet at book events say they hesitate to write because they believe they won’t ‘sound like a writer.’ They seem to believe writers are imbued with some magic vocabulary and generally that vocabulary isn’t found in everyday language.
Simple words in clearly stated sentences can have greater impact and connect more readily with readers. Readers understand simple and clear. Readers relate to simple and clear. At the same time, simple words in clearly stated sentences doesn’t mean writing has to be trite. See Rule 1.
Good advice when Orwell wrote these rules in 1946. Good advice 66 years later.
Thanks, George Orwell!