Orwell’s six rules for writing

In my last post, I mentioned George Orwell’s six rules for effective writing, taken from “Politics and the English Language”. If you’re not familiar with them, I’ve listed them below.

  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 it is 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.

Aren’t they wonderful?

I’m usually wary of maxims but that’s why I love these ‘rules’ so much because of the inclusion of number six. And of course, rules can always be broken. You just need to know when and to what effect. According to an article on Economist.com, Orwell himself broke these rules – frequently – in the article where the rules appeared.

But, then again, he is George Orwell.

Even if you don’t follow all of them always, the list can come in handy when you’re editing a piece of writing that just doesn’t work. Go through the first five to start with and see if applying them to your writing helps.

What writing ‘rules’ do you favour?

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