Nothing Has Changed – 6 Writing rules

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Being the Bowie fan that I am, I couldn’t resist a blog using the title of his latest album, but, this is not a blog about the Dame, though I’m sure one will follow in time, but a blog about a writer who is as essential to writing as Bowie is to music. Step forward Mr. George Orwell.

Best known for his novels ‘Animal Farm’, ‘The Road To Wigan Pier’ and, of course, the dystopian world of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, Eric Arthur Blair, as he was born, was also a keen essayist, journalist and critic.

The 6 rules Orwell created

The 6 rules Orwell created

One particular piece of Orwell’s’ work stands out to me as a copywriter though and that is his 1945 essay entitled ‘Politics and The English Language’. Sounds pretty dry and uninteresting that’s for sure and it wasn’t until I learned that it was only 32 pages long that I thought I ought to get to grips with it. So, safely positioned on a train from Exeter to London, I got stuck in and finished it off somewhere south of Bristol.

Predominantly an essay on the importance of clear and precise language, Orwell spelt out that people in power – politicians and the like – usually used confusing and unclear prose to baffle the general public. While this is true, and definitely remains so today, to overcome this use of deceptive talk, Orwell created a list of 6 ‘rules’ he believed all writers should adhere to:

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

Obviously not an extensive or exhaustive list, but these 6 rules can stand any writer in good stead, whatever the subject. For a copywriter, they are certainly just as relevant now as they were 70 years ago and proves that, as the title suggests, nothing has changed.

“Language is a political issue, and slovenly use of language and cliches make it easier for those in power to deliberately use misleading language to hide unpleasant political facts.” – George Orwell

When you’re in need of some clear, concise and jargon-free copy, email me and let’s get started!

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Published by Graeme on 3 January 2015