If you want to learn how to play golf, you’re best off having a word with Tiger Woods. If you want to know what to do with a succulent breast, Nigella’s probably your girl. There’s a theme emerging here: whatever you’re trying to learn, it’s a good bet to ask an expert.

The same’s true of learning how to become a better writer. ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ author George Orwell had plenty to say on the subject on writing, and although he’s not around to quiz directly anymore (tuberculosis carried him away in January 1950) he left many of his thoughts on the process in books and journals.

Orwell famously invented Six Questions and Six Rules which every writer worth their salt should respectively ask and abide by. These questions and rules apply equally whether you’re working in the creative or corporate field.

You could do far worse than printing them out and pinning them by the side of your desk. Obviously here at Wordsworks Towers, our dedication to the craft of business copywriting is such that we’ve had them tattooed all over our bodies, in the vein of Guy Pearce in Memento – but don’t feel you have to go quite so far.

Six questions

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  • Could I have put it more shortly?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Six rules

  • 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.
  • To which we might add that other modern curse of corporate documents – impenetrable acronyms which are meaningless to anyone outside business or organisation in question.