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Writers on Writing: George Orwell’s Six Rules

Again, I thank 101 Books for pointing posting this list of George Orwell’s “don’ts” for writers, which comes from Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”:

  • 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.

Essentially: Avoid cliches. Avoid pretentiousness. Avoid wordiness. Avoid wimpiness. Avoid rule-worship.

These lessons are as applicable to the high schooler trying to impress me with big words to the burgeoning professional writer turning editors away with unpleasant prose to the showy blogger. I thank my dad for teaching me the gist of this when I was in high school. He read a letter that I wanted to share with the family, and he said, “Son, when you use all of those big words, it comes off as arrogant.” I remember being so mad at him for that, but, over the course of several years in college, realizing more and more that if I wanted to communicate with people, I was going to have to accept that he was 100% right. No one likes talking to (or reading the words of) a pretentious twit.

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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