George Orwell: the original website copywriter?

copywriterMost famed for his chilling novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell also wrote an essay called Politics and the English Language through which he communicated six simple rules about how to write good English. Considering the essay was published back in 1946, it’s amazing how well Orwell’s language rules translate into advice about how to write for the web.

Here they are:

  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 word will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive when 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 rather than say something barbarous.

* If websites had existed in Orwell’s day he would surely have included them in his first rule.

The most important thing about the style in which you write is to sound sincere. As a general rule avoid all of the following: cliches; corporate speak; excessive punctuation; fancy words; and long sentences.