Passive voice sucks the energy out of writing like a lamprey. My next writing assignment in an interdisciplinary seminar I’m teaching is to have students write an essay without using the passive voice. Use of the passive voice will result in a letter grade reduction on that assignment. My hope is that this exercise will focus our minds on word choice.

To help students appreciate and understand passive voice, I thought I’d share with them George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” Google turned up several URLs with the text. Here are the top ranked results:

  1. “Politics and the English Language” from a site in Russia

  2. “Politics and the English Language” from Stanford’s Master of Liberal Arts program

  3. “Politics and the English Language” from Philip Atkinson’s ‘A Theory of Civilization’ site

  4. “Politics and the English Language” from the ‘Guide to Grammar and Writing’ site at Capital Community College

There are many more search results that also lead to full-text copies of this essay.

If you look at these presentations of the essay, it becomes pretty clear that how the essay is presented makes a difference to the reader. Some are easier to read than others. Once a person understands this, they start making rational decisions about font (e.g., serif or sans serif), font face (bold or italics), font size, line spacing, the inclusion of diagrams or pictures, etc. It’s not a Big Thing, but it’s a writing Thing.

I omitted from the above list one of the top results of my Google search for Orwell’s essay. it was Wikipedia’s page on the essay: Politics and the English Language. It’s not a substitute for the essay (though it has a nice summary), but it does add some value.