Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” While writing like a child might be taking things too far, a common nugget of writing wisdom is to ‘write like you talk’.
Letting go of corporate writing habits is easier said than done. Years of writing in a stiff and formal style for CVs and company documents can make your voice seem cold and impersonal. Instead of leaving your reader bored and uninspired, writing like you talk makes them pay attention. Here are five ways to make your writing sound a little more like the real you.
1. Use simpler words
Do you say ‘furthermore’ or ‘with regards to’ when chatting with a friend? Probably not. What about ‘utilise’ or ‘optimise?’ Your readers will thank you for breaking your corporate writing habits and using simpler, everyday words – they’ll feel like your work was written by a human rather than a robot. Here’s a handy conversion table to get you started.
2. Punctuation is your friend
Conversations have natural rhythms we don’t even notice most of the time. When it comes to writing like you speak, punctuation mimics the pace, pauses and changes in tone that are part of every conversation.
For example, semicolons split up a sentence where the subject changes a little bit but not totally; they can also be used to break up lists of items if commas aren’t cutting it. Hyphens, meanwhile, are multipurpose – they can be used like semicolons, or to create a nice pause to give your reader space to think.
People are often scared to expand their repertoire beyond full stops, commas, speech marks and the occasional colon. You shouldn’t be. Varying your punctuation might seem insignificant, but it will give your writing a voice that is instantly recognisable as you.
3. Tell it like it is
Whether it’s evading tough questions, or cloaking bad news in a sentence long enough to confuse Charles Dickens, it’s time to stop waffling and focus on what matters to your reader.
Being honest isn’t the same as being blunt or rude. It is possible to communicate both concisely and empathetically. If you catch yourself waffling, think about what you really want to say, figure out the emotions you want to convey, and then weave those into the bare facts. The process might look something like this:
|Waffle||“We regret to inform you that due to a malfunction in the administration department’s computer system, the payment which you attempted to make at 10.33am could not be processed and subsequently we must request you submit your payment in full immediately.”|
|The truth||“Your payment didn’t go through! Oops!”|
|Result||“Thanks for making a payment this morning. Unfortunately a system issue at our end meant it didn’t go through. I’m really sorry for the trouble – please try again, and we will process it immediately.”|
4. Imagine writing to one person
Who will read what you’re writing? Sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s an actual human being (even if you’re writing to a business audience). So as you write, imagine somebody that represents that reader, and invite them to sit next to you. Have a (one-sided) conversation with them.
Rather than using the third person perspective (‘McWriterly Enterprises highly values its customers’), use the first or second person to make it more personal and direct (‘we want to help customers like you’). You want to make the reader feel special, as if you are speaking to them and them alone.
5. Record yourself speaking, then write from that
This is a great strategy to develop a more relaxed voice in your writing. Jot down the key points you want to get across, and if possible frame them as questions you can answer. Then find a quiet space and a voice recorder, and chatter away.
Listen to your recording (or if you really hate listening to your own voice, get Otter to transcribe it for you). Then plan your draft. Listen out for quirky turns of phrase, metaphors and examples that bring your ideas to life. Where do you waffle, and where do you get to the point?
Never underestimate how important it is to connect with your audience. If somebody comes to you for advice or answers, they want to talk to a real person who understands what they need. If you can show that side of you through your writing, your readers will trust not only the company you represent, but you specifically. And so they should – you’re awesome. Own it, and write it. Good luck!