During my days of academia, it was drilled into me to write formally. Heaven forbid I start a sentence with ‘And’, or slip in a contraction! And, well, I’d be absolutely slaughtered for that exclamation mark. Formal writing makes you appear more educated, yes. And you’re less likely to offend because you’re always neutral and passive. But my God, at what cost?!
Snorefest: over. Finally, conversational messaging is seeping into the business world. With brands like Innocent Drinks winning hearts with their informal, friendly tone of voice, many others have followed suit. It’s clear that people want to see the human side of their favourite brands. Because if a brand is relatable, they’re more likely to make a lasting impression.
Ideally, you want to be aiming your marketing towards your ideal personas, who probably speak conversationally every day. So, unless you’re targeting your old English teacher, I think you can get away with writing a little more casually in tone — sorry, Mr. Jeffs.
Here are some guidelines for awesome language that’s as enjoyable to write as it is to read:
‘It is’ becomes ‘it’s’, ‘they are’ becomes ‘they’re’, ‘was not’ becomes ‘wasn’t’… you get the idea. Contractions are quite simply an everyday part of our vernacular. They’re easy to read and pronounce, and they shorten your sentences to help them flow better. The reality is that contractions have been used in English writing for over 1,400 years, in both scholarly articles and literary masterpieces like Beowulf and Moby Dick. So if you’re afraid contractions make your writing too sloppy, try reading something by Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde or Charles Dickens.
Try not to use too much jargon
Using too much jargon can actually defeat the original purpose by being too technical, boring, and ultimately forgetful. And if you must use acronyms, explain what they mean when they’re first mentioned. For example: CRM (customer relationship management).
Use ‘you’ and ‘I’
Contrary to formal writing — which encourages you to stay neutral — directly addressing the reader and acknowledging your own opinions or experiences is much more personal and engaging.
Storytelling is a huge buzzword in business right now. Big brands like John Lewis have proven it’s a powerful technique in the quest for capturing attentions. It’s hard to make people care about what you do, but everyone loves a good story.
Keep it short
Be simple but specific to keep attentions — describe things succinctly and try not to ramble. If you’re unsure, read your work aloud. If you find yourself tripping over words or running out of breath, try to break up the sentences. Full stops and commas are your friends! A great little online tool for this is the Hemingway app, which shows you how to write like the king of simple, direct, unadorned sentences himself.
Break the rules!
Your sentences might, for example, begin with pronouns and end with verbs; they might begin with “and,” “but,” or “yet.” In fact, you might not even need to write complete sentences. Break the rules and write how you actually speak! Picture your target audience sat in front of you, and write directly to them as you would speak to them.
Use active voice instead of passive voice
Active voice adds energy to your writing, whereas passive voice sounds a little more blasé. For example, ‘the article was written by me’ would sound better as ‘I wrote the article’, or ‘the guide can be downloaded here’ would be better off as ‘download the guide here.’
It’s important to keep the reader engaged and thinking about their own situation to try and get them to relate to you. You can do this with rhetorical questions, or asking them to have their say via social media. This also shows you care about what they think.
For example, once you start writing in a conversational tone, it would be strange to see a formal writing style elsewhere on your website. More importantly, consistency makes you seem more confident and helps build trustworthiness.
Ultimately, the more someone feels directly spoken to as a human being, the more involved they’ll feel in the message you’re trying to get across. As you reveal your more relaxed and genuine side, you’ll build better connections and keep your readers engaged. Plus, it’s easier for you because you can write how you talk, so ideas and words will transfer more naturally from brain to page. Why not try it out in your next blog post?