17th May 2019 Claire Hawes

What George Orwell can teach you about writing marketing copy

You may not believe this but best selling author George Orwell can teach you a thing or two about writing marketing copy. Here is his advice

Your choice of words matters when writing marketing copy.

Without a doubt, if you want your readers to understand your message and share your ideas.

More importantly, if you want your readers to act on them.

So what’s the answer?

To compel people to read your marketing copy, you must put your reader first and write clearly and concisely.

But don’t just take my word for it.

The novelist George Orwell certainly understood the power of plain English. In his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, he outlined six rules of writing.

Let’s take a closer look:

1. “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”

Here’s the thing. People get blind to hackneyed phrases. So channel your inner Apple: Instead of thinking outside of the box – think differently.

To avoid these hackneyed terms:

  • ‘Designed by ‘x’ for ‘x’ – Canva says: “Design everything. Publish anywhere”
  • ‘Your one-stop shop’ – Quickbooks says: “All I need to manage my business at my fingertips.”
  • ‘Innovative solutions’ – Evernote says: “Remember everything”
  • ‘State of the art/cutting edge’ – GoTo Meeting says: “Connect to anyone, anywhere. On any device”

2. “Never use a long word where a short one will do”

Using long words doesn’t make you sound more intelligent.

Conversely, using plain English doesn’t mean you’re dumbing down.

The simple truth is when you use long words, you’re less likely to be understood.

To illustrate, see how easy it is to replace complex words:

  • Additional – Extra
  • Complimentary – Free
  • Facilitate – Ease/help
  • Implement – Begin
  • Purchase – Buy
  • Regarding – About
  • Utilise – Use

3. “If you can cut a word out, always do so”

You see, when you strip out unnecessary words, you help readers to get to the message they need quickly.

For example:

  • At this present time – Now
  • Crisis situation – Crisis
  • In excess of – Over, above
  • Miss out on – Miss
  • On a monthly basis – Monthly

4. “Never use the passive where you can use the active”

Aim to make every word count. When you write in an active voice, you shorten sentences and make them easier to read.

Beyond that, you give your words energy and make readers feel part of the action.

To illustrate:

  • Passive: It will be fixed by Bob
  • Active: Bob will fix it!
  • Passive: Apps have been created to help you to solve your problems
  • Active: There’s an app for that
  • Passive: Just allow it to be done by you
  • Active: Just do it

5. “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent”

Can I be totally honest with you? Jargon slows readers down.

So put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Do not assume your reader understand words, phrases and acronyms you use internally to describe your products/services. Use words they understand.

One more thing. Here is some jargon to avoid at all cost:

  • Pain point – problem
  • Thought leader – expert
  • Partner – work together
  • Core competencies – what we do best
  • Cutting edge, Leading edge, state of the art – latest
  • Very unique – it’s either unique, or it’s not
  • Solution – better to explain what it is, what it does and why you need it

6. “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous”

This one is easy. Use common sense. Take a step back from your work. Then edit. And edit again.

And finally

No matter what you write, be it a novel, business communication or marketing copy, George Orwell advised:

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

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

Sometimes it pays to listen to the experts.

The good news writing clear and concise copy doesn’t have to be you. If you’d like help with writing marketing copy that’s easy to read, understand and act on, drop me a line, and we’ll set up a time to chat.

Claire Hawes, copywriter and owner of The Content BoutiqueAbout Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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