Orwell's Rules of style

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The English writer 'George Orwell' wrote an essay called Politics and the English Language in 1946. This is reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Orwell's guidance on style was driven, as the title suggests, by a desire to see honest clarity and straightforward expression in politics. It is good advice for all writers of serious formal prose -- as students in Higher Education should aim to be.

  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.
(For no. 6, cf Levin's rule.)

Possibly the last is the most important for confident writers. It tells us that writing is not a matter of rules. The point of writing is to communicate.