George Orwell’s Six Tips for Better Copywriting

(Inspired by Copyblogger’s The Mark Twain Guide to Better Blogging)

Forget 1984 or Animal Farm. George Orwell’s legacy to webmasters were his thoughts on copywriting.

Orwell died 40 years before Tim Berner-Lee got busy, but he understood the power of the written word. His most famous essay – Politics and the English Language – offers outstanding advice on how to write clean, concise and easy-to-understand copy.

That’s the kind of web content that makes users want to spend money, because they understand exactly what you are selling and why they should buy it. The very same web content that search engines lap up, because it’s genuine ‘quality content‘ that makes Matt Cutts go weak at the knees.

Ignore the word ‘politics’; Orwell’s advice applies to any topic. He diagnosed common problems with writing and offered six simple solutions:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I urge anyone writing for the web to tape these six bullet points to their monitor. Read them as a morning mantra, digest the Wikipedia precis now and print the full text to read tonight.

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