Become a better writer today with these six famous rules
We’re all writers, and to some degree, we’re all insecure about it. Whether it’s an op-ed, an important email, or a social media update, the words you use say more than you think about your business and your brand.
At Cultivate, we are continuously reviewing writing best practice, especially as communication channels keep changing at a pace.
The once ubiquitous postal letter became a fax, then an email, then a 140-character tweet. What was once only raised in the odd focus group is now discussed at length by hundreds of customers on Facebook and Twitter.
It can be a scary world for communicators – and we’re all communicators now.
There are hundreds of books, blogs and websites on how to be a better writer. But we’ve yet to find a guide that beats George Orwell’s six rules for writing (from Politics and the English Language).
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
This one applies more to journalists and creative writers than it does in a typical business context. We’re all guilty of using the odd cliché, but be cautious not to overdo it.
Bring to the party
Take a stab at
Go the extra mile
Too many balls in the air
Throw the baby out with the bathwater
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Use instead of utilise.
Help instead of facilitate.
About instead of regarding.
There’s an unconscious belief that the bigger the word, the more professional we sound, but often the opposite is true. Big words and complex sentences are confusing to readers and they dilute your message.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
When you think your writing work is done, print it out, sit down with a red pen, and see how many words you can cut. The more you cut, the better your writing.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Your sentence order should be subject, verb, object.
E.g. ‘She aced the presentation’, as opposed to ‘The presentation was aced by her’.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Every sector has its own “lingo”, but steer clear of using this when communicating with anyone outside your work circle – e.g. customers.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell understood that every piece of writing needs to work within its context, and there’s no styleguide that could cover every possible scenario. Be conscious of the rules above and check yourself as you go.
Most importantly, don’t buy into the idea that good writing comes ‘naturally’ to some people (and not others). Writing for your audience is a skill, and as with any skill, it improves with conscientious practice.