5 digital copywriting tips we learnt from George Orwell

The customer controls the message today. It is their language that dictates the communication. You must use their words, not yours, if you want to be found.

Meet George Orwell, literary buff and king of digital copywriting tips. Yes, really! 

You might know George Orwell as the author 1984, one of the most significant novels of the 20th century, but his influence has endured well into the 21st century in both his literary legacy and his campaign for writing in plain English. 

Orwell was a champion of plain English. He believed that clear and concise language was essential for communication, and he wrote extensively about the importance of using plain English in his essays and articles.  

But what exactly has George Orwell got to do with digital copywriting? 

“Politics and the English Language” 

One of Orwell’s most famous essays on plain English is “Politics and the English Language,” which was published in 1946. 

In this essay, Orwell argued that the English language had been corrupted by “bureaucratese,” or the use of jargon and obfuscation in government and other official documents. He warned that this trend was leading to a decline in clarity and understanding, and he called for a return to plain English. 

But plain English isn’t just for politics. It is a rule to be applied across all forms and medias written for the masses. In particular; digital copywriting.  

Digital copywriting tips from George Orwell 

Applying Orwell’s copywriting tips to your content will help you take a big step towards clear, concise writing that keeps your readers engaged. 

Let’s take a look at what old George had to say:

1. Steer clear of the metaphorical and the literary

There’s a place for descriptive, flowery prose, but your website isn’t it. No matter how proud of them you may be, kill your darlings – those poetic, metaphor-heavy lines you’re most proud of. 

They may look pretty and sound clever, but they’re more for your own ego than the reader. Ask yourself, are they adding anything worthwhile? If not, then strike them out.  

2. Never use a long word when a short one will do

You want your reader to instantly understand what you’re saying rather than to be reaching for the dictionary. So, instead of gratifying yourself with long and impressive-sounding words, write using the language of everyday conversation. You’ll connect with your readers much easier. 

Short words can also be read much faster, and can be used to create impactful, front-loaded headlines to grab your readers’ attention. 

The most effective words are generally short, too: ‘you’ is the most important word in a digital copywriter’s vocabulary. Other examples include ‘want’, ‘need’, ‘love’, ‘because’, ‘save’, ‘easy’ and ‘how to’. 

It’s also worth mentioning that plain, simple language is used by customers when they search using Google. So, for them to find you, you must get the wording right, shunning industry-speak for common phrasing. 

3. If it’s possible to cut a word out, always cut it

Make every word count. Web writing must be concise and direct; there’s no room for waffle or confusion over your meaning. 

So, write and edit, write, and edit. Trim the fat until all that remains is the key message – the sense of what you’re trying to get across. Any ambiguity is a shortcut to failure. 

This is standard practice in journalistic news writing.

4. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday equivalent

Phrases like ‘raison d’être,’ ‘à propos’ or ‘joie de vivre’ might give your writing a distinguished feel, but they’ll pull up any readers who don’t instantly understand the meaning. 

Similarly, if you’re writing about something intensely technical, try and think of ways to make it clearer and simpler for the average reader instead of using industry jargon. It can be difficult, but making copy easy and accessible is content writing 101.

5. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

This is perhaps the most important rule of all. To create content that flows well and gets to the point in a clear and effective manner, you need to develop an eye for good writing. This means reading other excellent writers (like Orwell), checking and re-checking your copy, and writing for fun as well as for work. 

When you’re a thoughtful writer yourself, you’ll have an ear for what sounds good and what sounds ‘barbarous. You’ll then have no trouble bending and breaking these rules when necessary. 

If you’re looking for some help with your digital copywriting, get in touch with Sticky or explore our Training opportunities at PA Media Training.

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