George Orwell’s Rules, from “Politics and the English Language“, (1946), are timeless.
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Follow these rules and you may well be reversing the decline of the English language . As Orwell explained:
“It is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”
Why would you want us to create an online password-protected Resource Centre for your organization? The answer is in the question: “What do I do? I’ve just been tasked with writing a QP card (or options briefing note, or Memorandum to the Minister)”.
An online Resource Centre will:
- Provide podcast and written training materials to improve the quality of the products your staff produce;
- Provide templates and examples using content specific to your organization (you tell us which key issues you want covered in the examples, we research and write the examples);
- Present detailed information on How It Works – Question Period; or the Memoranda to Cabinet process; or Cabinet briefing; or whatever it is you want included in your Resource Centre;
- Offer examples and advice on how to find your department’s key messages or the Minister’s preferred responses;
- All in a password-protected on line-site that can only be accessed by us and the people you give your password to. And it can be updated over time to meet your organization’s needs.
There are even more reasons, like, it’s very cost effective and provides value for money – think of it an as always available training session. All material is clearly identified as examples for training purposes. Your users can download & copy the material or leave it on our password protected site and and access it whenever needed. And we have more expertise in this area than most do – more than 20 years experience in Briefing, Cabinet and Parliamentary Affairs service delivery and management.
Although the focus is not public sector writing specifically, Purdue University has a great Online Writing Lab (OWL) offering free writing resources and instructional material. You’ll find everything from job search writing to all you need to know about use of semi colons.
The OWL Site Map provides a bird’s eye view of resources for writing and teaching writing; research; grammar and mechanics; style guides; english as a second language (ESL); and job search and professional writing.
All the material is copyrighted by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University but individuals and teachers can use it.
U Vic English professor Susan Doyle has a great website “English 302: Writing for Government“. You’ll find topics such as Characteristics of Good Government Writing; How to Write Briefing Notes, Correspondence, Press Releases, Summaries etc. The course gives students practice in writing tasks commonly performed by government communications professionals or content specialists. Check out the related resources on the website.
The University of Victoria’s Hypertext Writer’s Guide was originally prepared for students in the English Department. The Guide is an introduction to the process of writing and to the study of literature. It has detailed information on wide ranging topics such as how to write essays or writing clear sentences, as well as details on subjects like mistakes with modifiers. Check out the Index or the Table of Contents.
Human Resource Development Canada developed a Plain Language Online Training site. If you’re interested, here’s the link.
“Plain Train” (complete with images of tracks and engineers) provides tips and techniques for improving your communication skills with the use of plain language.
Although parts of the site are a bit too “wordy” for our tastes, we recommend you visit the sections on appropriate words, clear and simple sentences, and clear and effective paragraphs.