How A Famous Novelist’s 6 Writing Rules Can Help Your Sales Copy

What do novels and sales copy have in common? They might be vastly different niches, but their purpose is the same: to be read. They both want to hook the reader and keep them reading till the end.

Novelist George Orwell obviously knew how to write well. His renowned books “1984” and “Animal Farm” are testimonials to his talent. They’ve been read by millions of people worldwide. But did you know he was also an essayist who offered great advice to other aspiring writers? His essay “Politics and the English Language” might not have the most grabbing of titles (a copywriter could have helped him there) but it includes 6 invaluable tips for all writing niches, including sales copy:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.Clichés can kill your copy stone dead.  Your copy will read as dull as ditchwater. Instead, you want your words to be as light as a feather…I’ll stop there as you can clearly see Orwell’s point.  Clichés suck the life out of your copy.  And that includes overuse of the exclamation mark, and the words “exciting” and “fantastic”.  Don’t try and stir up a frenzy of fake excitement.  Think of them as hot chilies – use them sparingly.

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

Yes, in copy size does matter.  Short words create better writing, they’re easier to read and they pack more of a punch.  It’s all about simplicity.  The simpler your language is, the easier and faster it is to read.  Sales copy is not the place to amaze your readers with your extensive vocab or Scrabble-winning words.

So, write “free” instead of “complimentary”.  Use “buy” instead of “purchase”.  Use Anglo-Saxon English and ditch the more flowery Latin equivalent.  Shorter words affect us more emotionally – and when it comes to buying, people tend to be more in tune with their hearts than their heads.

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

Edit your copy like a surgeon and cut out any superfluous words. It might take a few ruthless revisions, but it’s worth the effort.

After all, do you need so many “very” and “really”?  Do you need to use “that” so often? Give them the chop if you can.  Why write “At this moment in time” when “now” is even better?  Discard unnecessary words and as a result your writing is more likely to hit the mark.

4. Never use a passive where you can use an active.

Orwell believed active sentences are more lively and personal.  They have more oomph and energy.

Compare the active sentence “Millions of men use SupaVit” with its passive alternative “SupaVit is used by millions of men”.  The passive sentence is lethargic, tired.  It’s not up and about getting noticed and read.

Active sentences also tend to be shorter (remember size matters).  Long sentences are just as counterproductive in sales copy as long words.  So make sure your verbs are all active and working hard, not lounging around like teenagers with a hangover.

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

I’m stating the obvious here:  Your writing must be clear to your readers.  Otherwise, they won’t read it.  No one likes to read something they don’t understand.  It’s not good for the ego.

Jargon is as bad as a cliché.  It can make your reader feel like an outsider, stupid or not your intended audience.

Your sales copy will be much better and more accessible if you use simpler language. Show your reader some respect and consideration.  You’re writing sales copy, not a PhD thesis. (I’ve edited many theses in my time and they often break all the rules Orwell listed.  See rule 6.)

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

Well, rules are meant to be broken (excuse the cliché).

Bear in mind the six rules, but also be aware that your biggest challenge is to write in a friendly, down-to-earth way.  You should write as you speak, like you are talking to a friend.

Your copy should be like well-organized but natural speech, with a faultless flow.  This is much easier with shorter words and sentences.

Remember, you are trying to build a relationship with your reader.  You want them to like you.  Impress them with how you can help them, not your flowery language.

About the author: Kay Hutchings-Olsson

Kay Hutchings-Olsson

“I’m Kay Hutchings-Olsson, copywriter at KHO Copywriting. I write results-driven B2B and B2C copy only for self-help and natural health marketers who use print and online sales copy.

When I write copy for your company, I promise to bring all of my experience and my relish for writing to your projects. – See more at:

2 replies
  1. Reg Manser
    Reg Manser says:

    Thanks for some useful tips from a great writer. But I’m not sure Orwell would have been eager to contribute to the craft of copywriting – he described advertising as “the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket”. Still, it’s a nice simile…

  2. Kay Hutchings-Olsson
    Kay Hutchings-Olsson says:

    Thanks for your comment, Reg! Orwell was indeed no fan of advertising, but his essays are still undoubtedly a great help to writers in all niches, even lowly copywriters :-)

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