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Why Orwell’s 6 rules for writing were made for the digital age

Creating web-friendly content isn’t easy – especially when it comes to writing about money.

Compound interest, Standard Variable Rates, and pound-cost averaging don’t exactly scream ‘simple and engaging’.

So, how can you write about complex financial topics for busy, impatient web readers?

Funnily enough, the answer doesn’t lie in a 21st century tome. The mighty George Orwell came up with six ‘rules for writing’ back in 1946 – around five decades before the World Wide Web was born.

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

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told investors: ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. But, as I’ve recently learned, it’s much simpler to tell investors to spread their money across a range of investments.

Figures of speech are not only a bit cringe; they can also confuse the reader. And that’s not what you want to do.

Your clients’ lives are complicated enough without having to figure out what ‘dead cat bounce’ means.

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

Contrary to popular belief, using long words doesn’t make you clever. You just sound arrogant, which isn’t great if you’re trying to win and retain clients.

If a blog is easy to read and understand, you’ll instil a sense of liking and confidence in your reader. You’ll come across as someone they want to form a relationship with.

By all means, write with flair. But don’t use long words just for the sake of it.

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

No one wants to bother getting their head around convoluted sentences. And that’s especially the case when reading content online.

Web readers are usually in a rush, often looking at blogs when they’re waiting for a bus or brushing their teeth. Most people only read 25% of the words on a web page, so you need to get your information across efficiently.

So, instead of calling it ‘the funds universe’, just say ‘funds’. And rather than writing ‘it’s important to achieve diversification when investing your money,’ just write ‘diversify your money’.

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

Writing in an active voice makes your writing concise, engaging, and direct. This is exactly what you want to achieve when writing for an online audience. Writing in a passive voice is subtler, weaker, and often convoluted.

Take the following as an example:

Active: Investors buy shares. This is direct and succinct.

Passive: Shares are bought by investors. This uses two extra words and is long-winded.

The active version of the sentence sounds more natural, as if you’re chatting with the reader. My colleague Nick has written more about this in a previous blog.

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

Finance is full of jargon. You might think technical terms make you sound like an expert. In reality, they just confuse people and make them click elsewhere.

Making the complex simple takes practice, but it’s worth persevering. Clients are more likely to choose a financial adviser who speaks to them in plain English, than one who reels off phrases like bear market, uncrystallised funds pension lump sum, and asset allocation.

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

It’s not possible to follow every rule all the time. Fortunately, Orwell came up with a sixth rule: break the rules if they make your writing coarse and unrefined.

Sometimes, replacing every long word with a short one could make your content a bit dull. Words like ‘nice’ and ‘fine’ are the shortest in their cluster of synonyms, but they pale in comparison with ‘wonderful’, ‘delightful’ and ‘enjoyable’. Similarly, keeping every sentence active and short might make it sound like your barking out orders.

Orwell’s rules are a great place to start if you want to write concise, engaging, and attention-grabbing copy. Every writer would do well to ask themselves: Is the information clear? Could I put it more succinctly? Am I engaging the reader?

Just like Nineteen Eighty-Four withheld the test of time, Orwell’s six rules for writing are as pertinent today as they were more than 70 years ago.

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If you want to give your clients engaging and to the point blogs or newsletters, we can help. Get in touch with us at [email protected] or call 0115 8965 300.

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