While moving house recently (packing endless boxes of books) I came across George Orwell’s five rules of effective writing. They’re as relevant today as they were in 1946…
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
The more people ‘go the extra mile’, ‘deliver innovative solutions’, and ‘engage stakeholders’ the more people shrug it off. These phrases have lost all meaning – so common they no longer elicit any emotional response.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Why make things more complicated than they need to be? It’s fine to know the long words, but far more effective to use the short ones.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
‘The girl washes the dog’ has much more punch than ‘the dog is washed by the girl’.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Even when your audience is highly specialised, jargon is probably not the most effective way to get your message across. Use only technical terms you’re sure readers will understand.
Five simple rules, still helping us communicate almost 70 years later.