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Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell
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What questions do scrupulous writers ask themselves?

Scrupulous writers ask themselves the following questions:

1. What am I trying to say?

2. What words will express it?

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

They may also ask,

1. Could I put it more shortly?

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Expert Answers

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In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell distinguishes between "scrupulous" writers and writers who want primarily to express their emotions and show their allegiance to one side of an argument. These latter writers lack concern for the details of what they say. Scrupulous writers, Orwell suggests, are more logical and careful than their opposites, thinking deliberately about every word they write.

Orwell devotes much of his space in the essay to the problem of imagery, or description that uses any of the five senses to make writing come alive. Poor writers use worn-out images they have borrowed from other sources rather than coming up with their own. Therefore, two of Orwell's four principal questions ask writers to carefully examine their imagery to make sure it isn't sloppy or overused.

Orwell states that the scrupulous writer asks, about every sentence he or she writes, "at least" four questions. These are the following:

1. What am I trying to say?

2. What words will express it?

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

Orwell goes on to say that a writer "probably" should ask two more questions:

1. Could I put it more shortly?

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

The first set of questions asks writers to be very clear about the thoughts they want to express before beginning to write.

In the second set of questions, the word ugly is subjective, but the question about putting it more "shortly" gets at the heart of good writing. This means that good writing is concise and cuts any unneeded words away.

All of these questions suggest that good writing is hard work that requires acute thinking and deliberate, scrupulous effort on the part of the writer.

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