By Angela Benander, VP of Advocacy & Corporate Responsibly
Good writing is critical in this industry. It also takes practice. A few years ago, I stumbled on what I have come to consider my secret weapon – George Orwell’s rules for writing.
George Orwell’s six rules come from an essay called “Politics and the English Language.” Even though Orwell is now famous for his fiction writing, these rules are meant for non-fiction – political, practical writing like we do here at Culloton Strategies for our clients. The rules encourage precision in choosing words and conveying messages.
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
So many phrases are overused to the point where they are practically meaningless: “skyrocketing” gas prices, “tip of the iceberg,” “end of the road.” Readers skip right over them and tune out what you have to say.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
This is about clarity for the reader and keeping the writing simple and direct so your message gets across. Wading through long, flowery words is taxing for the reader and makes it more likely to be ignored.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Make each word have a reason for being there. If it’s not necessary, cut it out.
4. Never use the passive when you can use the active.
The passive voice is hard to read. It makes the reader do the work of figuring out what the action is. It also sounds like you are hiding something. PR has a bad enough reputation – don’t add to it if you don’t have to!
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Here are some examples – value-added, solutions, milieu, buy-in, suboptimal, operational efficiencies. Many corporate, non-profit and health care clients have their own industry-specific terms. In most cases, they have no business being used in communications meant for the general public or the media.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Use good judgment. Read the piece to yourself out loud. Maybe you need that common phrase or industry-specific term after all. If it makes the writing clearer and helps the reader understand something better, then go ahead and do it.
I have these rules tacked up over my desk at home, and they help tremendously. In fact, I’m going to print out a copy to go over my desk at work right now…