George Orwell's 12 Tips for Good Writing

I find these helpful. I don't follow them enough, but they are very good. Well, they are from Geoge Orwell, who knew a thing or two about the craft of writing.

George Orwell's 12 Writing Tips

  • 1. What am I trying to say?
  • 2. What words will express it?
  • 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  • 1. Could I put it more shortly?
  • 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  • 1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • 2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • 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.
  • 5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • 6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

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Comments 8 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

All good tips, as one might expect. Occasionally, however, while reporting for newspapers I (and some compatriots) would throw in a word that would compel readers to look in a dictionary just to help educate the public. One such word was eleemosynary.


JamesRay profile image

JamesRay 8 years ago from Philadelphia Author

They are all good. I like the idea of throwing in a new word.

eleemosynary

1. Of or for charity; charitable; as, "an eleemosynary institution."2. Given in charity; having the nature of alms; as, "eleemosynary assistance."3. Supported by or dependent on charity; as, "the eleemosynary poor."


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Those are good rules.

We used Orwell short stories in our expository writing class when I was in college. He's was a great, very honest writer. He was a socialist who went to Spain to fight in the Spanish civil war on the side of the Republic. But he didn't hesitate to report the abuses of the side where his sympathies lay. His short stories are masterpieces, every bit as good as Hemingway's.

Another source for writing tips is a short book, "The Elements of Style," by Strunk and White. Sample:

Rule 13. Omit needles words.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing shold have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Strunk and White's recommendations are consistent with Orwell's rules above.


Kenny Wordsmith profile image

Kenny Wordsmith 8 years ago from Chennai

Maybe it depends on our priorities. If it's a technical manual, logical, concise precise writing is the priority.If it's poetry, communication of emotion and images take precedence. If it's humour, long words, if they evoke laughter, are welcome. For example, calling a lie a 'technical inexactitude', sometimes makes it funny.

Please keep writing on writing; keeps me inspired, thanks!


Rapidwriter profile image

Rapidwriter 8 years ago from UK

Fabulous hub. I loved Orwell. And I'm still teaching those rules to the writers I mentor. It's good to see them laid out like that. It might be good for academic writing, too, I feel.


thooghun profile image

thooghun 8 years ago from Rome, Italy

Some fantastic rules I should emply more often in my writing *sighs*. Sometimes though, it seems that you just HAVE to add that extra word to make the flow of a sentence that little bit more musical. Maybe I have the soul of poet, or maybe I'm just flat out wrong *laughs*.


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Excellent.


jcressler profile image

jcressler 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida

Good site and thanks for sharing his rules with me, the forever fledgling writer. It reminds me of his famous six word short story (I think I can remember it)

For Sale, baby shoes, never used.

I especially liked his "Shooting an Elephant" short story which I commented on in my Hub "The Orchard."

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