5 Rules for Effective Writing
Most writers strive to be better writers.
I certainly do, and I am sure that most writers also have this simple goal with their writing. But having such a goal and achieving this goal are two entirely different matters. All writers can benefit from learning more about the craft of writing and their readers will bless them for it.
How can your writing be effective?
A simple search on the internet with the term “effective writing” brings up over half a million possible articles. Most of these will offer no real benefits to the writers seeking to improve their work. However, many years ago George Orwell wrote an essay in which he outlined five rules for effective writing. Here they are with some brief personal comments:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of using hack phrases, like “fall into the trap” and “hack phrases”. To make your writing truly sparkle, make the effort to think of new ways of saying things. A memorable new metaphor or simile will bring your readers swarming back for more, like mosquitoes targeting a bare arm at a pool party. Keep it fresh.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
I have very few problems in this area. After 35 years of attempting to communicate with reluctant students aged from 6 to 10, I have developed a simple way of getting ideas over to my readers. It seems to come naturally to me. Many writers, however, need to work hard at this skill. Trying to impress your readers with long, uncommon words will just turn off the majority of them. Keep it simple.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
This is a very simple and effective tool to use. Many writers think they are better writers because they write many words. Be ruthless in your editing. Cut out all unnecessary words. Keep it short.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
I must admit that I watch this potential problem very carefully. I know I lapse very easily into the passive voice. I do not know where this comes from – perhaps from all those years of writing school reports. In fact, when I look back over this post, many of the sentences are in the passive voice [oh horror!]. I must break this rule more than I observe it. Be patient; I’m still learning. Keep it lively.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
This is similar to number 2 above. I worked for many years in an environment where jargon was king. It really turns me off when writers use foreign words to show off their knowledge. All it does is muddy their writing. Communication relies on clarity. Keep it understandable.
My thanks to John Wesley who wrote a similar article on this topic called George Orwell’s 5 rules of effective writing. It was this article that inspired my article.