Let me guess …
You’re smart. You know your stuff. And you have a sparkle in your eyes when you talk about your favorite subject.
But your writing doesn’t sound like you. At all.
No matter how hard you try, you struggle to find the right words.
You swap one word for another — now your sentence sounds lame. You try yet another word. That’s even worse.
You’re not a boring old fogie, so why do dull sentences sneak into your content?
You know your writing should be more conversational. But how?
It may seem difficult to write content that’s engaging and seductive. But it really doesn’t need to be so hard.
Let’s have a look at the three steps that turn boring (yawn) sentences into sparkling content.
Step 1: Get rid of that oh-so-dull corporate voice
Nobody wants to talk with an automated machine. Nobody chats with a corporation. Nobody gossips with a call center menu.
So, why publish written text so spiritless that it puts your readers to sleep?
Watch out for the three signs of sickening corporate drivel:
- An abundance of long sentences
- The passive voice
- Over-complicated words
Let’s go into a bit more depth on each.
Long sentences can wear your reader out.
Undulating sentences can be beautiful like this:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. ~ J.D. Salinger
But long, undulating sentences are hard to pull off.
In a time of hectic busy-ness, you might lose your reader if you don’t get to your point quickly.
Your reader is not lounging in a rocking chair engrossed in a book. Instead, he’s hurrying around the web to buy Christmas presents for his wife, or to check the latest Hummingbird advice while panicking about his website traffic.
To promote readability aim for an average of 14 words per sentence … unless you want to sound like an erudite academic.
Don’t make all your sentences the same length either. That’s monotonous. Throw in a one-word sentence or a two-word paragraph to make your reader feel she’s effortlessly gliding through your text.
If your sentences are longer than 14 words on average, look for sentences that you can cut in two. Words like and, but, or because often indicate where you can chop a sentence.
The passive voice is mind-numbingly dull.
Imagine you’ve just returned home from a wonderful night out with your spouse. Looking to turn up the heat on the rest of the evening, you whisper in her ear: “You’re so much loved by me.”
Sounds weird doesn’t it? That’s because it’s passive voice.
Corporate drones often use the passive voice because they don’t like to take responsibility by using I or we. Instead, they avoid blame by saying, “A mistake has been made.” But it sounds impersonal and unfriendly. (And cowardly.)
Instead of using the passive voice (“Your email will be replied to in 48 hours.”) try the active voice: “We’ll reply to your email within 48 hours.”
Nobody is interested in your command of Latin and Classic Greek.
I love the word petrichor -– the scent of rain on dry earth.
But writing is not about impressing your readers with your command of the English, Greek, and Latin languages. Why
obfuscate muddle the meaning of your content with a difficult word?
A large vocabulary is good, because it helps you choose the right words to express your ideas precisely. But don’t use a difficult word if a simple word works.
- Choose to use rather than utilize
- Go for to shorten rather than abbreviate
- Select to ease rather than alleviate
Use plain English to make your content more conversational. Get rid of corporatese to make energy-sucking sentences easy to read.
Step 2: Make your text engaging
Ever felt like this …
You’re reading a post of your favorite writer. It’s as if you can hear her voice, as if she’s talking to you. She seems to be reading your mind — answering your questions as soon as they pop into your head.
You might think your favorite writer is super-talented. You might think she records herself talking and then types out her text. Is that why it’s so conversational?
Conversational writing isn’t exactly the same as spoken text.
When you speak, you use lots of unnecessary words like just, really, *uhm*, and like. You start a sentence, but don’t finish it. You use the first word that comes up in your mind, even when you know it’s not quite right.
You know what I mean?
Conversational writing is carefully edited to make it sound less like writing. But the simplest text is often the most difficult to write. It requires rethinking, restructuring, and lots of polishing.
So how do you make your text conversational?
Firstly, get to know your ideal reader.
If you don’t know who you’re having a conversation with, it’s difficult to choose the best words, ask the right questions, and give helpful answers.
Get to know your ideal reader so well that you can laugh with her, argue with her, and picture her shaking her head when you hit a typo. Then you’re ready to turn your content into a conversation with her:
- Avoid obvious statements because your friend isn’t dumb
- Ask questions to engage her in your conversation
- Use the word you
- And never address your friend as part of a crowd — because she hates that.
Posing questions to your reader makes her pay attention as she briefly considers whether she knows the answer. You also make her feel she’s part of your conversation.
Step 3: Dazzle your audience with sensory and emotional words
Ever gotten excited about a breakthrough innovation from a world-class leader in customer service solutions?
Many words are so overused that they’ve lost their meaning. They just take up space. They’re filler. That’s true for landing pages, blog posts, business emails, and any other type of writing.
Your job as a writer is to touch your readers. Tickle them with your words. Dazzle them with your writing.
Content can only become riveting when your words sketch scenes so vivid that your reader pictures, experiences, and feels your words.
Sensory words make your content more powerful and memorable because they help readers experience your thoughts.
Research suggests that when you read a textural word — like smooth or rough, slimy or gritty — your brain activates the areas related to touch. The same is true for words that appeal to the other senses, which activate more brain processing power than non-sensory words.
Emotional words can have a similar effect. They make your reader feel something. When you make your readers feel fear, delight, or sadness, they’ll remember your words.
Here are nine tips to make your writing more vibrant and energetic by choosing the right words:
- Replace bland words with sensory or emotional words. Instead of bad, use rough, stale, or stinky.
- Use a thesaurus for inspiration. But be careful, because synonyms aren’t always interchangeable.
- Pick the word with the right connotation. Thin hair has a negative connotation, while fine hair is more positive.
- Choose a specific rather than a generic word. Describing a girl as lanky or svelte gives you a more precise impression than thin.
- Limit yourself to a maximum of one adjective before a noun. Don’t talk about a warm, sunny, humid day. Instead, choose the word that describes the day most accurately, for instance: a sticky day.
- Replace an adjective/noun pair with a stronger noun if you can. Why say big house if you can refer to a villa, palace, or mansion?
- Delete as many adverbs as you can. Avoid meaningless words like just, really, and actually.
- Introduce surprising metaphors … such as scrumptious blog posts that your readers gobble up.
- Strike a balance. Too many emotional words make your content melodramatic. An overdose of sensory words sends readers onto a roller-coaster with lights flashing and loud music playing. Your job as a writer is to paint a picture with as few words as possible.
Don’t jam sensory words into each sentence.
Decide which points need to attract your reader’s attention. Then fine-tune these by appealing to the senses, or up the volume with emotional words.
The fine art of writing sparkling content
Next time you read an inspirational blog post, a touching poem, or a riveting novel, pay attention to the words that make you feel something.
Analyze which words help paint a vivid picture. Notice the words that appeal to your senses. And consider which details are left unsaid so you, as a reader, can fill in the details.
Create a swipe file with your favorite words, enchanting phrases, and seductive sentences. Open your eyes to the subtle beauty of language.
Release the inner poet in you.
Play with words.
What to continue the conversation?
If you have any questions or tips of your own for turning bland text into sparkling written words, join us over on Google+.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Nick Perla