George Orwell’s 6 Rules for Writing

George Orwell – best known as the author of 1984 and Animal Farm – published an essay in 1946 called Politics and the English Language. You can find a copy of the essay here. In the essay Orwell draws attention to what he sees as the awful (and even dangerous) written English and, in particular, the political language of his time. Orwell saw political language as being deliberately unclear in order to hide the truth, ‘to make lies sound truthful…and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’

Political writing, along with certain other kinds of writing are in Orwell’s view guilty of ‘pretentious diction’ and using ‘meaningless words’, the result of which is pretentious, lifeless and sometimes just meaningless writing.

Orwell’s solution was 6 rules that would prevent writers from slipping into this kind of bad English. The rules are worth following and would still prove useful to some written work even today. Here are the rules:

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 on will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive voice 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.

The quality of writing coming from some government departments, corporations, management consultants and others would improve substantially if these rules were taken to heart.

rand 31 provides editing, proofreading and writing services to clients in Australia and around the world.