“The best books … are those that tell you what you know already.”—George Orwell, 1984
I was reminded of this fact last week when we started a book club here at gyro London. First out of the hat was Slaughterhouse 5. A happy choice, because Kurt Vonnegut is a great example of how to express complex ideas and emotions in simple, yet riveting language.
And it got me thinking. What could we learn from the masters of English about great communications? Is there a set of rules we could apply?
The point is that brands continually need to engage a variety of audiences – whether customers, suppliers or staff – with written communications. So the use of simple, riveting language is hugely important.
Other writers who fulfill this paradigm for me: Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984) all instantly came to mind.
I was looking for some insight into each author’s method when “Bless me!” (only I didn’t say “bless”), George Orwell came to my aid with pretty much the perfect set of writing guidelines. Orwell’s rules for writing come from his essay Politics and the English Language (1946). Here are six important points that Orwell highlights for writers:
-Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
-Never use a long word where a short one will do.
-If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
-Never use the passive where you can use the active.
-Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
-Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
After almost 70 years, I believe George’s six rules would fit into just about any brand’s copy style guide.
These rules don’t put any block on creativity. If anything, they would make reams of online content shorter, clearer and more engaging. And that can only help brands, which are increasingly focusing on content creation, to grow.
Then again, when it comes to creativity, Orwell offers us another valuable reminder from 1984: “If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones.”
Phil Pinn is a senior copywriter at gyro London