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What George Orwell Taught Me About Blogging

This guest post is by Trevor Ginn of Hello Baby.

Having written masterpieces such as Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell is considered one of the greatest writers of all time. 

In 1941 he wrote the essay called Politics and the English Language in which he criticised the “ugly and inaccurate” contemporary use of English and offered six elementary rules for good writing.  The medium may have changed but these rules are as relevant to the blogosphere as they were in Orwell’s day.

If you want to be understood and read widely, using effective language should be your top priority.  The web is full of mediocre blogs, so make sure yours stands out.  Good writing matters and by following these rules you can rise above the competition and clearly communicate your ideas.

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

Familiar phrases such as “on the same page” or “think outside the box” come quickly to mind when writing.  However, using these hackneyed phrases will lead to boring blog posts and groans from your readers.  Take time to craft postings which are interesting, inventive and original.  Never resort to clichés.

Rule 2: Never use a long word where a short one will do

Using long words may make you feel clever, but they do nothing for the readability of your posts.  Your blog should be easy to read and aimed at a broad audience.  After all, nobody likes a show off.

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

Great blog posts never waffle but are short and punchy.  Your posts are competing with a myriad of other distractions both online and offline and so you need to get your point across with brevity and emphasis.  Less is almost always more.

Rule 4: Never use the passive where you can use the active

When you blog, you should use short, impactful sentences make your points.  To this end active phrases are shorter and more direct.  For example, “the man wrote the blog” is punchier than “the blog was written by the man.”

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

Aim to use plain, jargon-free English to appeal to the largest possible audience.  You should always aim to write for the average reader, although admittedly for technical subjects this may be difficult.  Do not drone on with excessive explanation but try to help people understand what you are talking about.

Rule 6: Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous

Above all, be sure to use your common sense!  These rules are easy remember but hard to apply and the key is to care about making your blog easy to read, accessible, pithy and cliché free.

Trevor Ginn is an entrepreneur who runs the online baby shop Hello Baby and ecommerce consultancy vendlab.  You can follow his antics on his blog or@trevorginn.

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Comments

  1. Really good points, but I think many of us consistently fail to understand the rule about not using the passive. In fact, I’ve written a column about this that will be posted tomorrow (June 5.) Check out http://www.publicationcoach.com/blog/

  2. Monisima says:

    I loved Animal Farm. Thanks for sharing Orwell’s writing advice:)

  3. 1984 – won’t be forgetting it any time soon. It was the prescribed book for English back in VCE for us :P However, great article Trevor! You are practising what you preach – this post was as easy to understand as it can be and that’s admirable. I think a lot of bloggers out there have a lot of goods things to say, but too often over-complicate it and get lost in the language itself. It’s a shame to see a language barricade solid content away..

  4. Hugh Grigg says:

    The passive one is a silly bit of advice that always gets passed around and backed up with bad examples. Notice how that last sentence was perfectly readable. This article goes into more depth about the whole anti-passive nonsense
    http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497

  5. Hi Trevor,

    Short and punchy works best. Be direct. No need to get fancy.

    Many bloggers stretch out posts. The value is in the directness of the message. If you can say it in 400 words, say it in 400 words instead of 1000. Too much emphasis on length over effectiveness.

    Love the tip too about cutting it out. Release. If you can avoid using a word or phrase, do so. Especially cliches.

    Thanks for sharing Trevor!

    Ryan

  6. Trung Nguyen says:

    I also love rule number 2, in fact, I always love to read the short article more than long article :) I’ll follow that rule for now. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Greg Pipkin says:

    Trevor,

    You wrote in rule 3 that “less is almost always more.” Doesn’t that violate rule 1? The phrase “less is more” has become tiresome to me. Less is less, more is more. Whether one is better than the other is always open to interpretation.

    Not really trying to pick, because I agree with all of your points. Just wondering if everyone is as weary of that phrase as I am.

    • Trevor Ginn says:

      Hi Greg,

      I did say that it wasn’t easy to follow these rules! I once asked the novelist Will Self, who is a great lover of long words what he thought of these rules. He said they were pretty rich coming from an author whose favourite book was James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the most difficult books to read ever written

      Thanks for everyone for their comments

  8. To play the devil’s advocate, this really depends upon the style of writing you are looking to create.
    Some people prefer to languish in the tedious and verbose writing of the Victorian area.

    Others prefer short and to the point.

    Overly simplistic writing may get the point across to the lowest common factor, but were is the fun in it?

  9. Ehsan says:

    Great ideas from George Orwell, Thanks for collecting them and sharing them with us Trevor.

  10. Not sure whether this is George Orwell related, but the best advice I can give about blogging is to write a blog post like you are writing an email to a friend.

    It will flow freely and sound much more natural.

    Russ

  11. Simon Shaw says:

    Or a twist on Russells comment above, an email to a good client who is requesting information on a topic you are knowledgeable about.

  12. Jon Stone says:

    I think these suggestions sum up a lot about writing for nearly any medium. The Internet is no exception. The problem you run into is when you start worrying too much about rules and how people think you should write, you lose track of the voice and feel for your blog, site, etc.

    While being concise, offering valuable content and keeping your posts easy to read will bring in the readers, your voice and identity help to keep you in their minds. This also can help to foster trust. If everything you write sounds like a soul-less robot, they will treat you soul-less robot. If you are writing like a trusted friend and authority in your niche, you stand better chances of being treated like a trusted friend and authority in your niche.

    Keep the grammar decent, the formatting clean and keep these rules in mind, but if you have to bend a rule or break a rule here or there for the aesthetics or feel of things, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb from time to time.

  13. Daniel says:

    Some good points to think over, Trevor…..

    I think that as long as the writing style flows smoothly and keeps the reader engaged, there should not be too many problems..

    We often hear about there being so many ” rules of writing a blog post” that if followed too rigidly, would have us not being able to write anything at all…

    So, we need some balance…

  14. Ishan says:

    Great points. The first one is especially true.

    I have used these though but refrain from using phrases like that.

  15. Brilliant advice, thanks. I too am very fond of 1984 and only yesterday asked my daughter to read it since it’s not been on her English Literature reading list and she’s now doing her A Levels!

  16. Trevor, a great post. I agree less is more and recently changed blog format to be more pictorial. Six or seven good photos and no more than ten lines of text. By the way I loved 1984 and Animal Farm, read them years ago. Orwell was indeed an amazing writer.

  17. Ayaz says:

    Hi Traver,

    Thanks for sharing great tips and I agree with you applying all the rules will be hard on every situations but the key is to produce any article that should be concise and clear in giving the message to the readers of your blog. ;-)

  18. Eapen says:

    Excellent points Trevor ! You have absolutely followed the rules in your post. That’s really commendable. Though some of these points may not be always practical to apply while writing, it must be our relentless effort as bloggers to put them into practice whenever and where ever we can. It was really a nice read! Thanks!

  19. Lisa says:

    Common sense always rules. I’ve been working on hard on #3. Great tips, thank you for sharing Trevor.

  20. Love this. We interviewed a photographer once, and she said she always tried to use the least amount of photos possible in an interview – that it had more impact, AND left the readers wanting more. I agree – sometimes I see too many words – or photos – and just stop reading.

  21. Al Alsson says:

    He might have added one more: try never to use the expression, “as well,” particularly at the end of a sentence. But maybe Rule #2 covers that.

  22. Tim says:

    Thanks for these reminders Orwell! er, I mean Trevor! As someone who writes on tech topics constantly trying to make them understandable by the everyday user, these tips have come in handy through the years! In fact, many of them were drilled into me by my mother while growing up. She must have known Orwell, I suppose :)

  23. Thanks a lot for sharing. You have done a brilliant job. Your article is

    truly relevant to my study at this moment, and I am really happy I

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  24. I loved Animal Farm. Thanks for sharing Orwell’s writing advice:)

  25. Robert says:

    A simple but straightforward solutions that can be implemented right after reading this kind of article. The only problem with most bloggers is in consistency with the solutions presented here by Trevor Ginn. More than anything else thanks for sharing this kind of information.