Writing Clearly

Writing clearly & concisely

People often don’t think clearly about what they want to say. Lazy thinking produces fuzzy writing. English novelist and journalist George Orwell provided six rules for clear and concise writing that can improve your letters, articles, leaflets, speeches, and news releases. The points below are adapted from Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language.

Don’t use a figure of speech that you are used to hearing or seeing in print.

Many speeches (and sportscasts) are full of tired figures of speech: “step up to the plate”, “axe to grind”, “grist for the mill”, “hammer out”, “acid test”.

If you have an original figure of speech, use it. If not, forget them.

Don’t use a long word where a short one will do.

Don’t say, “She facilitated changes”; say, “She made changes”.

Don’t say, “She communicated with…”; say, “She talked with…”

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

Don’t say, “I am of the opinion that …”; say, “I think …”

Don’t say, “I am actively considering…”; say, “I am considering…”

Don’t use the passive tense where you can use the active.

Don’t say, “The result of lazy thinking is fuzzy writing”; say, “Lazy thinking produces fuzzy writing.”

Don’t use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon words if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Don’t say, “She has a certain joie de vivre”; write, “She enjoys life.”

Don’t say, “It was déjà vu”; say, “We’ve seen this before.”

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If a word or phrase fits the occasion, use it. There is more than one way to say anything.