Six rules of good writing

I have just read George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and I encourage you to do the same.  The focus of the essay is largely on political writing, but the observations are broadly applicable to all kinds of writing (and speaking, for that matter), from blogs to academic papers to job applications.  Orwell is insightful, concise and frequently hilarious, and I doubt I could do him justice by paraphrasing.  Click here for the full text.

Here’s a teaser, and perhaps the most immediately helpful section of Orwell’s essay: Six rules for good, clear, effective writing:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Now go read the full essay.

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2 thoughts on “Six rules of good writing

  1. Adam,
    That is very helpful to me because I just wrote the first page of a book I want to write. I have had no training in writing really. Can you direct me somewhere to find out more rules of writing?

    1. Stacey,

      Glad to hear this was helpful. I think the single most important thing for any writer is to simply start writing–and sounds as though you have already done that, so you’re on the right track! I publish only a fraction of my blog ideas, but I have found that the very process of writing about a kernel of an idea helps me to develop my thinking further.

      The technical rules of writing are a different subject entirely. You might check out a book like “Elements of Style” (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1557427283?ie=UTF8&tag=internationallis&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1557427283). I haven’t read it myself but have heard good things.

      Finally, here’s a helpful post from Seth Godin on the value of writing regularly: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/09/talkers-block.html

      Best of luck to you, Stacey, and Happy New Year!

      Adam

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