George Orwell’s writing rules and financial writing

George Orwell proposes rules for writing that will benefit any financial writer. Here they are, excerpted from his essay, “Politics and the English Language”:

  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.

I confess that I break rule #1, but I wish I could observe it. After all, the idea of volatility as a roller coaster ride gets boring after a while.

I am a huge fan of rules #2 and #3. I’d also add “Never use a long sentence when a short one will do.” A big part of my professional editing work consists of shortening sentences or breaking them into two or three shorter sentences, in addition to simplifying the writers’ vocabulary.

Active verbs generally best passive verbs. Not sure you could recognize or fix a passive verb? Check out the tips in this post about passive verbs.

Investment and wealth management are rich in the jargon referred to in #5. Orwell says that “If you simplify your English…., when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.” This relates to my post on “Why experts love bad writing.”

Still, there are always times when it makes sense to break the rules, as Orwell says in #6.

Thank you, Doug Tengdin of Charter Trust for suggesting Orwell’s rules as a topic for this blog!

Note: This post was updated on June 9, 2019, when an observant reader noticed that I’d referred to five rules instead of six. Please keep the corrections coming!