It would be hard to claim that marketing content is always readable. Marketing language is so riddled with jargon and unnecessary complexity that it’s been vilified in newspaper articles and online listicles (and it isn’t as if journalists aren’t liable to throwing out a little of their own ‘journalese’ now and again). We articulated the reasons why marketers need to reclaim simple and precise language from the verbose and grandiose in our last piece. The question of ‘how’, however, remains.
Never use a metaphor, simile or other figures of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
It’s slightly ironic that businesses will use a hackneyed metaphor, simile or figure of speech to try to make themselves and the services they offer appear to be interesting when it, in fact, makes them look distinctly ordinary. Very often complicated language obscures what it is that makes a business special, and leaves agencies and customers with the task of wading through the blather to reveal what’s underneath.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
There’s much to admire in the long, rolling sentences of Joseph Conrad or Charles Dickens but in marketing, economical writing is good writing. If you can fit as much meaning into a shorter word as you can into a longer one, then use the shorter word. Not only does this keep your copy succinct and make what you’ve already written easier to understand, it allows you more space in the eventuality that you find you have more you need to say.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Good editing requires a certain degree of ruthlessness. It isn’t always the easiest thing in the world to hack away at something you’re satisfied with––or something someone else is satisfied with––but when there are deadlines to meet and complex subjects to unravel, concision is a virtue. Swallow your pride: it probably doesn’t matter if your writing loses its ‘musical quality’.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
If you don’t know the difference between passive and active, you’re not alone. In active-voice sentences, the subject performs the action. In passive-voice sentences, the subject is acted upon. The active voice more closely resembles ordinary speech and gives credit for an action. The passive voice tends to use more words and can come across as vague. That isn’t to say the passive voice is useless in life––it’s often more polite because it neatly avoids attribution.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
If the average person wouldn’t understand the meaning of the word in question, you probably shouldn’t use it. This presents a particular problem for marketers, who use jargon words with such regularity that they often seem to have forgotten what constitutes a jargon word and what doesn’t. Explain yourself with everyday words and, though it might seem counterintuitive when writing a brief or something similar, you’ll save time in the long run.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell’s final rule is something of a get-out-of-jail-free card, and he broke his own rules fairly regularly. But really it’s a warning against militantly following his guidance when it’s obvious that you shouldn’t. For many reasons, you might need to or want to deviate from Orwell’s guidance, but as a set of guidelines which underpin your marketing content, these rules are invaluable.