George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing
If you want to be understood and have your ideas spread, then your language should be as effective as possible. This is not a recent problem at all, and as George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, this condition is curable. By following George Orwell’s 5 rules for effective writing, you can communicate your ideas as clearly as possible.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figures of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
This might sound easy, but it is easier said than done. Phrases such as stand shoulder to shoulder with, an axe to grind, swan song feel comforting and melodic.
This is the reason why they must be avoided. Such common phrases have become so comfortable to the point that they cause no emotional response. Try to invent fresh and powerful images.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Using long words doesn’t make you sound intelligent unless they are used skillfully. However, if used in the wrong situation, they’ll have quite the opposite effect.
When Faulkner criticized Hemingway for his use of limited word choice, he got the following reply:
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use”.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Any words that don’t add meaning to a passage dilute its power. In this case, less is always better.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
This is one of the mistakes that are made more often, probably because not many people know the difference between active and passive verbs. Here is an example that can clear the things a bit:
The girl was bitten by the snake. (passive) The snake bit the girl. (active).
The active sentence is always better because it’s shorter and more energetic.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
This is a tricky one because much of the writing published online is highly technical. You don’t want to continue with an unnecessary explanation, but always try to help your readers understand what your writing is about.
Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.
In the end, it’s all about using common sense when writing. It is easy to memorize these rules, but it is not that easy to apply them. Good writing matters probably more than you think.
If you think that you cannot apply these rules to your writing, maybe you should consider doing something else. You always have the option of playing a game or bingo or two.