Clarity in Writing

“What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.”

This is a quote from George Orwell’s article, “Politics and the English Language.”

Orwell’s article, though scathing, is all about clarity while writing, and I feel his main idea is to cut out all of the fluff that some writers use to make themselves sound more intelligent. In the article, he sets guidelines to help establish clearer use of English, which he feels is falling apart, but I think this line sums up what he means. Writing flows a lot better when you focus on what you want to say, letting that dictate which words you use, rather than picking longer, more confusing words and wrapping your meaning around them.

He also discusses how we use metaphors that essentially are meaningless because we use them so much. Phrases such as “awesome,” “amazing,” and “unique” tend to lose their meaning and excitement. Metaphors have transferred into clichés, and they are overused. However, figures of speech and metaphors are being discouraged in some writings. I think Orwell’s idea is to not use these metaphors with no meaning and to let what you want to communicate dictate the figures of speech you use.

However, I disagree with him that any form is “bad.” I think that people have the right to choose how they want to write, but they should focus on what they want to say than the language they use. I also think that writing with clarity in mind is most logical; people are more inclined to listen to what you have to say when you’re clear because they aren’t busy being irritated at trying to decode your writing.

I think this is especially true for academics. I think unclear, “coded” writing is almost a form of oppression, separating the educated from the uneducated. Academia should be about the sharing of knowledge, so using language that isn’t full of fluff is more effective. Obviously this varies on the field, but in general, academia could be more accessible if scholars could focus on writing clearly. If scholars want their knowledge to spread, and they put the time into writing, why push away potential readers with difficult-to-understand language?

What do you think? Should scholars continue using “academic” writing, or write for the purposes of clarity and getting their point across? Do you use common metaphors? Are they still good to use?

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