If you ever struggle over a piece of copy because you think it sounds too familiar, return to George Orwell for help. Best known today for 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell was a brilliant journalist and essayist. And 70 years ago he published a writer’s tool that was a piece of genius.
The joy of six
First set out in his 1948 essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell set out six rules for writers. They are as valid today as ever.
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that 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.
Commandment number one is the hardest to follow, because it challenges the creatives process from the beginning. However, once you get into this way of thinking, it produces copy that is clear, fresh and original.