The other morning I came downstairs to find my 2-year-old already up, and watching his favourite programme on the Internet. Nothing remarkable in that per se, except that he was alone. And I had shut the computer down the night before.
This isn’t about how smart my child is (although he can complete a Cat-in-a-Hat jigsaw in under 5 minutes reverse-side up and calculate the exact opposite of everything we ask him to do instantaneously, before implementing it without flaw).
No, the point is that in iPlayer the BBC have designed a web site so easy to use that a 2-year-old can master it.
If you are writing (anything at all: emails to colleagues, notices on the fridge, product descriptions, text messages to your friends…) then I hope at some point you have come across George Orwell’s 6 rules for writing.
Them’s good rules.
They are the conclusion to his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, in which he talks about the relationship between clear language and clear thinking. He ends his argument with 6 rules for sharp and accurate writing, in the hope that, not only will people express themselves more clearly, but that they might think more clearly too – that their communication might become meaning-full.
And yet halfway through the article, Orwell mentions another list for writers that gets me just as excited.
Editing a sales brochure recently I came across this line and many more like it:
‘If required [Company name] can therefore provide an introduction to a solicitor.’
This is what George Orwell hated. It is an unnecessarily inflated way to say something simple. Look at all the bits that the writer did not need:
Writers love George Orwell. He wrote this:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Legend. If discovering or being reminded of these rules is what you take away from this post – then my work here is done. However, if you want to know what Orwell was really getting at, read on.