For almost all students, some element of writing is a non-negotiable part of your course. Whether you’re engaged in distance learning or physically attend a college or university, your writing is likely to be read, scrutinised and marked. In fact, the way you write, not just the ideas you have, can have a big impact on how successfully you pass each module.
In this article, I’ll share George Orwell’s writing tips and show how they can help you improve your writing. Despite being written in 1946, Orwell’s ‘Six Elementary Rules for Writing’ are still relevant today. They focus on making writing interesting to read. We all know what it’s like to be so engrossed in reading that it feels effortless. Conversely, we all know the feeling of having to read something, like a textbook or manual, that is so dull our brains start thinking about something else as soon as we finish the first paragraph.
These rules might seem tricky to follow, but keep them in mind when you’re writing, and with practice, you’ll improve. Here we go…
For many types of IGCSE, GCSE or A Level courses, this rule isn’t going to be relevant. Here, Orwell is encouraging us to make up our own ways to express ourselves, rather than relying on well-worn language that has been used to death (oops, I broke the rule). The first time we hear a metaphor, it catches our attention. The hundredth time, we barely even notice it’s there.
This rule is about making your writing easily readable and enjoyable for the reader. There are infinite ways to express the same thing in the English language. However, it is possible to clearly convey your ideas using uncomplicated language. As readers, if we come across a word we’re not used to hearing or seeing in print, we pause and it interrupts the flow of our reading. Interruptions can mean we lose the thread of what the writer is trying express. Writing should be a vehicle for expressing ideas, prompting thoughts and creating imagery. It should not be for showing off how many fancy words you know. Of course, exceptions exist when specific, technical vocabulary must be used, but try to surround it with relatable, non-jarring language.
Try to make your writing economical. Orwell was a great advocate of writers ‘drilling down’ to their essential ideas and using the most succinct language to express them.
As a copywriter, I’m always amazed by how much I can strip back my writing (or ‘copy’) in the editing phase, then strip it back some more, without losing meaning. Limiting the work your reader has to do shows you respect their time and energy.
In part two of this blog, I’ll share Orwell’s last three rules and how they’re relevant to your writing. I’ve found that keeping these rules in mind has really helped improve the clarity of my writing. Why not have a go at improving a paragraph of your own writing, using the three rules shared in this blog?
Ruth is an experienced teacher and freelance copywriter. She has taught subjects from Maths and English to Music and Art. She has a degree in Psychology from the University of Sussex, which she topped up with a post graduate qualification to become a teacher. After well over a decade of teaching, Ruth now runs her own copywriting business, specialising in writing for and about children, families and education. Her passions include walking in forests, village bakeries and car boot sales. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org