George Orwell’s Six Rules of Effective Writing

Haste makes waste—this adage also applies to writing. When writing, particularly when trying to meet a deadline, we often forget some basic rules. This can lead to written content filled with sentences that don’t make sense; ineffective use of language can lead to misunderstandings and even distorted ideas.

If you want people to understand what you wrote and if you want your ideas to spread, using language effectively should be on top of your list. In an essay by literary legend George Orwell entitled “Politics and the English Language,” he addressed this problem that writers often encounter and established the following rules to avoid them:

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

When one runs out of words, it’s sometimes so much easier to fall back into using common phrases—“in the nick of time,” “fit as a fiddle,” and so on. While these words may sound pleasing to the ears, they don’t really bring anything fresh, leading to a lack of emotional response. Try to use words to create powerful images in the mind of your readers.

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

Keep your writing simple. Your goal is to communicate ideas and not impress readers with the depth and breadth of your vocabulary.

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

In line with the second rule, never use a word that doesn’t add anything to your sentence. Less is better. Take the time to reread your work, and omit words, phrases, or sentences that don’t contribute to the entire meaning.

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

Take a look at this example:

The letter was mailed by dad.

Dad mailed the letter.

The second one is better because it is shorter and carries more force. However, remember that this is not always the case; read and reread your work to know which one would suit best.

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

When writing, always think about your audience. Use words and sentences that you know they can relate to. Unless you’re writing for a specific group of people, it’s always better to use simple and everyday language.

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

The last rule may be a bit of an oxymoron, but what it simply means is that above all, use common sense when writing. Break these rules if you must, and prioritize effective communication over strict adherence to rules.

As Orwell also said, “Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane,” which means write clearly and with a purpose, using words that your readers will understand.