Best known for his novels ‘Animal Farm’, ‘The Road To Wigan Pier’ and, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, Eric Arthur Blair, AKA George Orwell, was also a keen essayist, journalist, and critic. As such, Orwell created his own rules for writing. Six of them to be precise.
As a copywriter, of all of Orwell’s’ work, it’s his 1945 essay ‘Politics and The English Language’ that stands out. Sounds pretty dry and uninteresting, that’s for sure. But on learning that it was only 32 pages long, I thought I ought to get to grips with it. So, on a train from Exeter to London, I got stuck in and finished it off somewhere just south of Bristol.
What’s it all about?
It’s basically an essay on the importance of clear and precise language in any kind of writing. Orwell spells out that people in power – politicians and the like – usually use confusing and unclear language to baffle the general public. While this is true – and definitely remains so today – to overcome this, Orwell created his list of six writing rules he believed all writers should stick to. So what are they?
George Orwell’s rules for writing
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
Obviously, this isn’t an extensive or exhaustive guide to writing well. But Orwell’s six writing rules will stand any writer in good stead, whatever the subject. For a copywriter they’re certainly just as relevant now as they were 70 years ago, and this proves that nothing has really 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, get in touch and let’s make a start!