George Orwell’s six rules of writing


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.

via George Orwell’s six rules of writing |.


Thoughts about online copy

Like many, I’m often sent a lot of links to websites. Sometimes people want me to promote or link to them, and sometimes I have to proof or ‘sex up’ the copy as part of my job.

But the problem I constantly find with a lot of online content is that – particularly that promoting council or funded projects – it tends to be a bit, well, crap.

I despair when trying to flick through half a dozen pages to try and work out what, why and how a project deserves attention. In many cases you can’t because copy is often written for funders, not the audience. The copy may tick all the funding boxes of ‘bigging up’ those who put the money in and managed the project, whilst providing a light sprinkling of buzzwords in the opening paragraph. But does it explain succinctly to the target users what the project is, why they should care, or how they can get involved? More often than not, no.

In short, too much online copy is simply print copy with a hangover; a pointless bag of meaningless marketing jargon slapping users round the face.

The simple point for content developers and online copywriters is; stop and think why you want people to read this. Justify to yourself why each word needs to be there, because for users the Internet is a big place; it’s all too easy to skim or navigate away from content if it’s just hot air.

Without trying to come across as a condescending pillock, think:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Why should a user read it?
  • Will the user be enlightened, provoked into participating, or be provided with a clear route into an action?

Write for the audience; if it’s European funding-based and needs to appeal to young trendy types, content has to speak their language, not that of corporate business-speak or jargon/acronym-heavy bureaucratic jargon.

Ultimately, jargon and technobabble forms walls. Yes, they’re comforting to those who reside behind them, but they form a vast barrier to those outside it, often obscuring the good work that may be going on inside.

And on that vaguely meandering point, I think I’ll tail off for no good reason.