Orwell’s writing rules

George Orwell was one of the greatest writers in English, as famous for his beautifully economical style as for his searing social and political commentary. In his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ (Horizon, April 1946), Orwell gave the following rules for clear 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.

These are rules to live (write?) by, especially for academics (I think I’ll get them tattooed somewhere …) Orwell’s essay included examples of the absurd writing that becomes possible when his rules aren’t followed; a recent ‘favourite’ of mine can be read here.

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