Sunday, September 5, 2010

George Orwell's Six Rules for Better Writing

In December 1945, just four months after completing Animal Farm, British novelist and journalist George Orwell wrote "Politics and the English Language," a cautionary essay on the hazards of bad writing.

Bad writing is dangerous, Orwell contends, because it's habit forming.

Like playing too many hours of video games or watching too much TV,
reading too much bad writing threatens 
our ability to think with care and precision. 

slovenliness of our language makes it easier to have foolish thoughts," Orwell writes.

But sloppy thinking isn't the cause of most bad writing, Orwell says.  Haste and laziness are.  "The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy."

Fortunately, all writers aren't rushed and lazy.  For the "scrupulous" ones among us, Orwell offers six simple rules to apply "when instinct fails."  They are: 
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If at all possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
"These rules sound elementary, and so they are," writes Orwell, "but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable."

Sixty-five years later things have hardly changed. 

Imagine how much more effective the majority of marketing communications would be, if all writers followed his advice.
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