Seven ways connect with your readers by writing like you speak

In his “Manage Your Writing” blog, Kenneth W. Davis is urging people to be more conversational this week. It’s good advice, and writing like you speak is a great way to connect with your readers. So here are seven practical tips on how to develop a more conversational writing style.

1. Just say what you have to say

When you’re having a conversation with a friend, you don’t announce what you’re about to say before you say it. You just say it.

But in writing, many people feel the need to couch their words in long-winded preambles announcing that they are in the act of saying something.

The following examples illustrate my point. Which sentences sound more conversational and direct?

“I would like to invite you to my birthday party next week.”

or

“Come to my party next week!”

“I am writing to express my regrets that we are unable to attend your party next week”

or

“I’m sorry, but we can’t make your party”

“We wish to congratulate you on your success.

or

“Congratulations!”

“I hereby inform you of our change of address”

or

“We’re moving!”

In each case, the shorter version is much more natural and conversational – not to mention sounding warmer and more sincere.

2. Address your reader as “you”

When you’re buying something in a shop, the assistant doesn’t say to you: “Would the customer prefer to pay by cash or credit card?” (unless he or she is being terribly rude, of course). They say: “Would you prefer to pay by cash or credit card?”.

For greater impact, take the same approach with your writing. Again, ask yourself which is more conversational and direct:

“Clients may download the document from our website.”

or

“You can download the document from our website.”

“Candidates are requested to return a completed application form to us by 10 December.”

or

“Please return your completed application form to us by 10 December.”

3. Use contractions

When you speak, you naturally use contractions such as “it’s”, “don’t” and “you’ll” for “it is”, “do not” and “you will”. So, unless you’re writing an academic thesis, feel free to ignore that old English teacher who told you to always spell them out.

4. Use short words

I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again: when it comes to writing, short is definitely sweet.

You’d never say to your partner: “What comestibles should we imbibe for this evening’s repast”. You’d say: “What shall we have for dinner?”.

So apply the same approach to your written language and ditch those long, pretentious words that business writers love so much.

For example, replace words like “facilitation”, “regarding” and “utilise” with more common, conversational alternatives, such as “help”, “about” and “use”.

5. Use short sentences

Conversational writing, like speech, is governed by the capacity of the average pair of human lungs. If you find yourself gasping for breath before the end of a sentence, it’s too long. And if it’s too long, it’s likely you’ve tried to cram in too many ideas, making your sentence hard to follow. See if you can split the sentence up into two sentences or more.

6. Use short paragraphs

Long blocks of text are the written equivalent of being pinned against a wall and talked at non-stop by someone very boring and very hard to follow.

So make your writing kind to the eye – and the brain – by breaking it up into short, easily manageable paragraphs.

In contrast to what you were probably taught at school, one-sentence paragraphs are OK.

7. Feel free to start your sentences with “and”, “but” and “because”

Again, you were probably told not to do this at school. But, as with the spoken word, it’s perfectly OK to start a sentence with “and”, “but” and “because”. Why? Because they make your sentences shorter. And as we saw above, short sentences are easier to read than long ones.

See what I mean?

3 Responses to “Seven ways connect with your readers by writing like you speak”

  1. Zoe says:

    Though it seems a bit backwards, I often need a reminder about writing like I speak… My written voice comes out slightly formal, and sometimes it’s actually tougher to pull the “regular” voice out of me!

  2. Chris says:

    I like it. Points 5 & 6 touch on a common element in medical & scientific writing. Here folks seem to like single sentences that are a paragraph long. Unfortunately, they usually have multiple sub-clauses and end up as long as a ‘regular’ paragraph.

  3. Clare Lynch says:

    Hi Chris – and thanks for stopping by. The babbling “stream of consciousness” approach with long, snaking, out-of-control sentences, is definitely to be avoided! All the more so in medical and scientific writing, where you’d think precision would be the order of the day!

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