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Writing Tips From George Orwell

The following are excerpted from “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  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.
Becca Borawski Jenkins
Writer & Editor
Becca Borawski Jenkins is an editor, writer, and writing coach. She is currently the Managing Editor at both The Whole Life Challenge and StrongFirst. She specializes in building authority and readership through high-quality content. She also coaches private clients, does developmental editing for non-fiction book projects, and ghostwrites for a variety of story-telling projects she can’t tell you anything about (but that are super, super fun).
Published inInspiration & Quotations
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