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Simple Writing Advice From George Orwell

George Orwell left us some of the most timeless, simple advice about writing great prose.

George Orwell published an essay in 1946, entitled Politics and the English language. It is a brilliantly simple read, and as relevant now as when it was written.

"Good prose should be like a windowpane." is one of his famous quotes on writing. He felt that the meaning should always be clear and uncluttered. Orwell wasn't a stickler for grammar, or even spelling, but was fanatical about encouraging writers to make their message clear, brief and impactful.

In their brilliant book on copywriting, Read Me, by Roger Horberry & Gyles Lingwood, they present Orwell's lessons into two simple questions and rules:

Ask yourself these six questions:

  • What am I trying to say?

  • What words will express it?

  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?

  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

  • Could I put it more shortly?

  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Follow these six rules:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.

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

  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.

  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

You can read the entire essay by Orwell, Politics and the English language HERE.

As ever, it always comes down to less is more - but then Orwell might even have a problem with that much-used phrase too!

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