6 tips on how to write good English from the bloke who did ‘1984’…

You can write, right? You can construct a sentence, hold your audience and get your point across? Or at least you like to think so? Even the best of us can improve though, you should take a look at this…

As you may have seen, the novel ‘1984’ has had something of a second birth recently – due to a mixture of the current political climate and the simple fact that true classics never die. Like fashion, classic books tend to be reinvented by shifts in culture.

It’s been sitting in bestseller lists since it was first published in 1949. I vividly remember the first time I read it, some thirteen years ago.

I’m not sure if you were aware, but Orwell actually came up with a few succinct rules that anyone who wants to write English (well) should follow. I thought I’d share them with you on this Tuesday Evening, and I’ll add my own two bits underneath each one.

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

Be original and don’t sound like every other soul out there. This is especially relevant now, as with the internet everyone has a voice and a platform to broadcast it from. Any two-bit writer (ahem) can start up their own blog with a silly name and starting typing! To stand out, the majority of your words need to be cliche free.

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

Long words may go down well with an academic audience, but not every audience member is going to have a MENSA membership. Big words tend to break sentences up and if a reader snags too much while looking at your piece their minds and their eyes will soon wander…and you don’t want them to go off and buy ‘The Sun’, do you?

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

Less is more. With every sentence you write you’re fighting to keep your reader, so don’t drone. Be your own editor too – look everything over, and don’t be afraid to cut bland words out. You’ll also be surprised at how many typos you make when you look back at what you’ve done.

This isn’t your ‘6000 word’ University essay – you don’t need to ‘pad it out’.
(Ignore this if you’re still a student – pad away!)

– Never use a passive where you can use the active.

Active makes for exciting writing. Who gets off on reading boring stuff?
Active: The dog bit the man.
Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.
See this example here? Admittedly it’s not the longest sentence either way, but the former grabs you right away – it’s snappy (pun!) and to the point, and you’re instantly waiting for the next sentence. Whereas the latter feels a bit slow, and you have to almost compute it before you read the next sentence.

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

Goes hand in hand with your audience – by all means use exciting words and turns of phrase – but if everyone was well-versed in jargon they wouldn’t call it jargon. Think of the internal frame of the business you work for – would your average joe (or reader) know all of your office slang and corporate terms?

Err…wot’s ROI?

– Break any of those rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

I Googled what barbarous meant. It means brutal. I guessed that because it sounded like ‘barbarian’ and barbarians aren’t known for being gentle, especially Conan.

Come on – you were wondering why I had a pic of Arnie instead of Orwell, right?

If you’re interested in Orwell’s essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’ check it out here.

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