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6 Tips to Learn Effective Writing from George Orwell

6 Tips to Learn Effective Writing from George Orwell

Many people ask what it takes to become a good writer, when I think what they’re really wanting to ask is: what does it take to be an effective writer? The former can only be answered based on individual opinion, whereas the latter can’t be argued. Effective writing is concise and effortless. It says what needs to be said and nothing more, though for most writers this is a lot easier said than done. As they say, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

George Orwell, most famous for his novels Animal Farm and 1984, was also famous for his journalism and essays – particularly, the timelessness of his six rules for writers. Honestly, who better to learn from? His writing is friendly and welcoming. He always focused on simplicity and didn’t drown his readers with unnecessary words or jargon.

His tips have always been the key ingredient of my writing career: whenever I find myself over thinking my creative process, his tips are what I turn to in order to regain my focus.

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Here are 6 tips to learn effective writing from George Orwell:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

This first tip is so much harder than I thought it would be! Clichés are deeply embedded in our everyday conversations due to their casual nature – so much so, they become difficult to avoid because of how mindlessly we say them. (Guaranteed, I’m going to skim over this article as I’m revising it and will miss at least three.) During casual chats with friends and family, not such a big deal, but when you use them in your writing, one of two things usually happens:

  • Your reader will wonder why you didn’t take the time to find a more interesting way to tell your story, and might peg you as a beginner.
  • Your reader will shrug it off, but will have no emotional response to your writing whatsoever.

Epic. Fail.

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Always ask yourself as you’re writing: “How can I say this in a fresh way?”

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

I’m going to blame this widely made blooper on high school English class, where rigid essays with stiff prose scored you many As, but don’t translate at all into writing for the real world. As an avid reader, there’s nothing that distracts me more than having to stop, figure out how to pronounce a word, then bust out my dictionary to find out what it even means. Most people won’t do this – they’ll assume you’re pretentious and move on.

Always use words that can be understood by as wide an audience as possible.

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

Less is more. Make every single word you’re using count toward your big picture. Use your delete key so much you rub the word right off. Any word that doesn’t belong dilutes your overall message, making for weak prose.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

An active voice means the subject is performing the verb. For example:

Active: Doug hit the tennis ball.
Passive: The tennis ball was hit.

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Using an active voice makes your writing sound more concrete, direct, and confident.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

This is one of my biggest challenges, especially when I’m working on health articles where disorders and terminology pop up as often as I need a coffee refill. It’s crucial to find equivalent wording a wide range of people can relate to and understand.

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

Make sure each piece you write is completed to its highest standard. This is often our biggest challenge, since how do we know if it’s the best it can be when we’re so close to the project? Plus, we’re always growing and changing and so are our writing skills – what we think is fabulous today could be hamster cage lining to us tomorrow. Here, I let my instincts be my guide. If I’ve done my absolute best, that’s all anyone can ask for. You have to let it go, take everything you’ve learned, and move onto your next writing project.

Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, or an e-mail to a friend, these rules apply to everywhere you use the English language. Always remember: efficient equals effective.

I highly recommend you read his entire essay to learn effective writing from George Orwell. It’s a must-read!

Whose writing style do you admire? How have they helped you form your own?

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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