09 May 2012

Editing for impact

Editing for impact demands more than one pair of eyes and considerable talent. This is nicely illustrated by Seth Godin's take on George Orwell's famous and often-quoted Rules for Writers.

Here are Orwell's rules, edited:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. You don't need clichés.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Avoid long words.
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. Write in the now.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. When in doubt, say it clearly.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. Better to be interesting than to follow these rules.

Seth goes on to say: The reason business writing is horrible is that people are afraid.
To which I would add a probably even more fundamental reason, namely that writing poorly -- whether cliché-laden, circumlocutious, or plain ineffective -- is far, far easier than writing concise, effective copy.

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