1. Ganoosh
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    Ganoosh New Member

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    George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ganoosh, Dec 29, 2009.

    Hey folks. I did a quick search and it doesn't appear the following has been shared before.

    Here is an essay written by George Orwell. A guideline for preventing common errors in written language. I have found it very helpful: Politics and the English Language

    One bloggers interpretation:

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

    This sounds easy, but in practice is incredibly difficult. Phrases such as toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, an axe to grind, Achilles’ heel, swan song, and hotbed come to mind quickly and feel comforting and melodic.

    For this exact reason they must be avoided. Common phrases have become so comfortable that they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images.

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

    Long words don’t make you sound intelligent unless used skillfully. In the wrong situation they’ll have the opposite effect, making you sound pretentious and arrogant. They’re also less likely to be understood and more awkward to read.

    When Hemingway was criticized by Faulkner for his limited word choice he replied:

    Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

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

    Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree (Ezra Pound). Accordingly, any words that don’t contribute meaning to a passage dilute its power. Less is always better. Always.

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

    This one is frequently broken, probably because many people don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs. I didn’t myself until a few months ago. Here is an example that makes it easy to understand:

    The man was bitten by the dog. (passive)The dog bit the man. (active).The active is better because it’s shorter and more forceful.

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

    This is tricky because much of the writing published on the internet is highly technical. If possible, remain accessible to the average reader. If your audience is highly specialized this is a judgment call. You don’t want to drag on with unnecessary explanation, but try to help people understand what you’re writing about. You want your ideas to spread right?

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


    This bonus rule is a catch all. Above all, be sure to use common sense.These rules are easy to memorize but difficult to apply. Although I’ve edited this piece a dozen times I’m sure it contains imperfections. But trust me, it’s much better now than it was initially. The key is effort. Good writing matters, probably more than you think.

    I hope you find these rules helpful, and through their application we’re able to understand each other a little bit better. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to read Orwell’s original essay. It contains many helpful examples and is, of course, a pleasure to read.
     
  2. yenta
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    yenta New Member

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    why are these called rules and not just guidelines? :rolleyes:


    shalom
     
  3. Ganoosh
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    Ganoosh New Member

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    ^ Good catch. I made the mistake of copying the blogs title, instead of creating one that properly reflect Orwell's intention.
     
  4. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Excellent list of guidelines; I agree with everything stated therein. Especially rules 2 and 3. It's so easy to misuse twenty-dollar words and come off sounding phony rather than eloquent, and it's just as easy to weigh down your work with sentences/paragraphs that don't pull their weight.
     
  5. yenta
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    yenta New Member

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    then again 1 good long word can paraphase a sentence instead of using a larger number of shorter words

    as a counter argument you could say using a larger no of short words where one long word would do may insult the intelligence of the reader

    shalom
     
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  6. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I believe my writing is still honorificabilitudinitatibus even though all I ever use is short words.

    Those guidelines are mostly common sense. Though I’m no enemy of an extra word here or there.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Common sense isn't.
     
  8. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    :DNo, I suppose not
     
  9. Nobeler Than Lettuce
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    Nobeler Than Lettuce Contributing Member

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    This is especially interesting since Orwell was such a political writer. His political essays were of a very staunch language and indeed broke many of the rules he's laid down. But take for example something like 1984 and you get a completely different view on how he thought fiction should be written. I still use him to this day when escaping the pontificators of Oscar Wilde and Hemingway.

    I'd recomend you read "Keep the Aspidistra Flying". I believe Orwell was a very important writer who doesn't get any major credit outside of the inroads he made into political science which were evident in 1984.
     
  10. MSHendrie
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    MSHendrie Member

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    Great essay! Funny I just read Animal Farm again last night, when I stumbled on the movie. That was classic.
     
  11. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    This lesson took me many years to get, but it's a pretty big one. I use to think more was better, but more was only better if the more was more pratice. I hated cutting material out of my stories, but after I finally did it I realized it was so much better for it.

    Murder your darlin's. DO IT.
     
  12. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    I said it's easy to misuse big words. Using such a word in the way you described is fine--unless it's a word that your average reader would have to look up in a dictionary, or appears in the middle of a story that had, prior to that point, been at a third-grade reading level. And unless your readers are literary sorts who expect a rich sampling of haughty vocabulary from you, I doubt you'll offend anyone by keeping your writing simple. Nor should it take significantly more words to so.
     

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