Tuesday, February 26, 2013

George Orwell's five principles of communication.

Sixty-seven years ago, Eric Arthur Blair, under his pen name, George Orwell, wrote an essay called "Politics and the English language", in which he set out five principles of clear communication. His essay was aimed at writers, but the principles apply equally well to spoken communication, and speakers would do well to consider them when constructing and delivering speeches.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Although these phrases are in common use - "It's not rocket science", "Out of the box thinking" etc, etc., they have lost their impact. Try to be original to make the listener sit up and think, or don't use metaphors at all.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. This is set in the brain of all newspaper sub-editors. It's just as easy (in fact easier) to state a message in simple words as in complex language.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. People use "filler words" in speech all the time - "Actually", "To be perfectly honest". These words and phrases have no meaning, and no place in your communication.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. For example; Active: The dog bit the man. Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.The word "by" often indicates that a sentence is passive. Active communication is more direct and easier to understand.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. I see this rule broken most often. English is such a rich language, there is no need to resort to another.

However, George also added a sixth catch-all principle:

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

I agree, and think that the bonus principle is most important of all. As the song goes "If you can't say anything real nice, It's better not to talk at all, is my advice". That doesn't mean you have to be nicey-nicey all the time, but name-calling and abuse is a poor approach.

Now, having set out the rules, I'm sure I'll break a few of them from time to time. So will you (and so did George). But as guidance for good communication, I'm signed up to them.

Picture credit: Creative Commons

1 comment:

Eilldh Milnes said...

Thanks Alan, another clear and concise piece that I am glad I spotted in The Professional Speaking Group on Facebook. It's a timely reminder and of course, I sign up to these principles too.