Better Writing in Just Six Decades

Here are 6 tips from legendary author George Orwell, writer of 1984 and Animal Farm. Use them to punch up your own writing.

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 saying anything outright barbarous.

These directions come from Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” It’s 65 years old, but the content is just as valuable and applicable now as it was when it was written. You can read the entire piece here.

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5 Ways Twitter Improves Your Writing Skills

People keep telling me that the internet is making people dumber. To be honest, I don’t know whether or not that’s true. But did you know that Twitter can make you better writer?

If you are purposeful in your how you approach your use of any microblogging platform, there are 5 ways that you can they can skyrocket your writing ability.

1. You learn the value of every word — no, of every character. In writing, especially for marketing and sales, the tighter your message is, the better. When you have only 150 characters to work with, each letter has to earn it’s place. It has to pull it’s weight. This forces you to think carefully about your choice of words.

If you’ve ever gone over the character limit and had to edit your tweet, you know what I’m talking about. “How can I say what I need to say in the allotted space?” You have to be ruthless. If that comma isn’t serving a purpose, it’s gotta go!

2. You begin to break free from some of the “rule” forced on you by your English teachers.  The best writing is the plainest.  How many people do you know that speak with perfect grammar 100% of the time? In my neighborhood (Calumet City, IL, in south suburban Chicago), it’s probably less than 10%.

When you are communicating via the written word, sometimes there’s a desire to be super-formal.  Believe me, that’s not the best way to get your message across to the average audience. Unless you’re talking to English professors…

George Orwell’s sixth rule for good writing is to break any of  his other five rules before ”saying anything outright barbarous.”

Writers need to have the freedom to say what they mean, forsaking the rules when necessary.

3.  You have to learn to communicate in such a way that your reader will understand exactly what you mean. How many people do you know who don’t quite understand this principle? I see plenty of tweets that have no clear meaning, or that can be understood in multiple ways. Thoughtful writers will take the restricted amount of communication space to heighten their concentration. ”How can I eliminate any ambiguity and say what needs to be said so that the message is plainly understood?

This is great focus training for any writer.

4. You are forced to choose exactly what you want to say.  In an age where noisy chatter is constant, a Twitter message makes you strip your message down to the core. The way it should be. There’s no room to go off on tangents or talk about about non-essentials.

When brevity is required, you see who really knows how to communicate, and who’s just talkin’.

5. Twitter can give you extra writing practice. Tweeting is writing on a small scale. More practice is always a good thing. A high percentage of Twitter users access the social network with their cell phones. So even if you don’t have a pen and paper, you can practice crafting clear, compelling messages.

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