Politics and the English Language, Rule 3

This is part of a series on George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language.

Rule 3: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

Editing is the hardest part of writing. If a piece of writing were an iceberg, editing would be the 90% hidden underwater. While editing can involve selecting different words, or adding new paragraphs for clarity or completeness, by far the most valuable– and tricky– editing is reducing the word count.

Cutting words from your writing is valuable because it intensifies your writing. Just like reducing a broth brings out its flavour, dropping unnecessary words clarifies the meaning and sharpens the point of your work. Of course, all things in moderation: good writers know when to stop cutting.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

-Lord Polonius, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

“Brevity is… wit”

-The Simpsons

Modern schooling ensures we all experience the frustration of finishing an English paper, only to find it is too short. We have the unconscious belief that longer is better, when common sense tells us that someone who can convey the same idea in fewer words, without losing nuance or beauty, is the better writer.

How do you start? A good first step is to start assassinating adjectives. Search for words like “really,” “very,” “kind of,” and “incredibly.” Cut them out, then read the sentence again, and I bet you’ll find it’s stronger. Adjectives are anathema. Used sparingly, they add spice to your work, but slathered on thick and without discretion they leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.

Have ideas on how to tighten up your prose? Leave them in the comments!


  1. #1 by Authority Pro 3.0 review - June 5th, 2013 at 18:55

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