Tag Archives: george orwell

Online Copywriting: Get to the Point.

I’ve long banged-on about the importance of brevity and clarity when writing online copy.

More often than not, ‘informational’ content seems to be simply written for print or just copy and pasted from *shudder* administration documents straight into a website, with very little consideration for how many website users will:

  • Visually scan webpages
  • Get bogged down or navigate away from unnecessary content or jargon
  • Ignore unsubstantiated adjectives / platitudes.

In short, web content should get to the point.

Funnily enough, one of the best (unintentional) approaches to developing a good copywriting style for the web can be found in a 1946 essay by George Orwell:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  • Could I put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
  • One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails.

I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  • 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.

via George Orwell: 6 Questions/6 Rules.