The whole point of writing anything is to communicate an idea. This idea can be big or small; simple or complex, but often it's how we communicate this idea that impacts how people respond to it.
A common issue that I see people work through when writing is their need to write in a way that engages their audience. Give them the ability to communicate face to face, and they could explain all day the merits and strengths of their area of expertise. But put a keyboard or a pen between them and their audience, and they lock up. After all, writing has all these conventions and rules that we know exist but never really learned what those rules were, and talking about it is just so much easier.
It may come as a surprise, but you can do both.
Structuring your writing to reflect your speech is called 'conversational writing', and it's one of the most effective ways to forge a connection with your readers and stimulate a response. When you're running a business and seeking to gain more business from people reading your blog, then a higher engagement rate and response rate is going to be what you want, really.
Here's 8 things that you'll find helpful when writing content that is more conversational.
1 - Build A Scaffold
One of the skills involved with being a good conversationalist in real life is the ability to stay on track with the subject topic. The best way for you to be a conversational writer is to plan what you're going to say/write before you start. This foundational step will ensure that you don't go off track, and will help you make sure that you say all that you want to on the topic.
Bonus tip: build your scaffold so that it lists major and minor points you need to make. For example, the scaffold that I built for this blog post has the major point 'build a scaffold' and the minor point 'with major and minor points'. Which is kind of meta, really. Anyway.
2 - Plan Your Introduction
Foundational marketer David Oglivy once stated that the headline of an article is worth 80% of the effort spent on the whole article. This might sound absurd, but it makes sense. The headline of an article is generally what will make us decide whether the content is worth reading, so we tend to read more headlines than articles.
The introduction to your content serves a similar purpose. Just because you've grabbed the attention of your readers with a carefully crafted headline, doesn't mean they'll stick around if you lose them at the introduction. Your introductions need to be punchy and engaging from the get-go. If you're like me and you take a little bit of time to warm up the writing chops, then feel free to chuck a placeholder in there and try writing your introduction last.
3 - Be Concise
This can seem a little counterintuitive when you consider how we speak. If you've had to transcribe someone's conversational speech, you'd discover that we speak in long lines of dialogue with short pauses. We also have a habit of unconsciously using filler ('um', 'uh', 'so, like, yeah') when speaking.
Although this naturally occurs in our speech, it's unwise to let it carry over into written communication, since it disrupts the argument you're making. Instead, work on making your sentences shorter so they convey a minimal amount of things each. You should also let this be reflected in your paragraphs, since shorter paragraphs are easier to read and digest. (All the more so if your readers are accessing your content on mobile.)
If readability is something that you're concerned with, then the Hemingway app might be for you. This tool grades your copy based on how easy your sentences are to read, as well as offering suggestions on how to make copy easier to read.
4 - Use First And Second Person In Your Writing
First person is usually used for personal accounts or opinions. (e.g. "I am very good at making pancakes") Second person is often used to create instructions. (e.g. "You too can be good at making pancakes") Both are used to indicate the subject of the text. When you write content in second person, you shift the focus of the content from yourself or from some unknown third party to your audience. In doing so, your audience will feel like their status matters to your business, and they'll be more interested in what you have to offer.
5 - Avoid Formal Or Complex Words
I'll be honest with you; this is something I find difficult. This is because I am a huge word nerd, and have a tendency to use words like 'inexorable' or 'superfluous' in my everyday language. ('Inexorable' describes something as 'unable to be moved or affected'. 'Superfluous' means 'being more than is enough or required'.)
While I take words like these in stride, having to stop and explain the adjective of the day breaks up the flow of the conversation we're trying to have, so I'm trying to ditch them. Or use them less, at least. As for formal language, consider for a moment how you would explain a concept to your best friend. If you take a casual step back from formal language, your readers will feel like you're being real and honest with them. And this goes a long way.
6 - Drop (Some) Formal Language Styles
Be wise with how you use this one. By embracing contractions and dropping some formal language conventions, you move from writing copy that sounds like terms and conditions to something that is far more conversational. Of course, it's possible to go out the other side of this one and be too casual, (especially given that Australian culture fairly laid back), so before you start writing copy regularly, it's probably a good idea to check in with your editor or proofreader on what tone is most appropriate for your profession. Also, keep in mind that some aspects of slang or casual language styles can be limited to culture or language. If a large portion of your readership is Chinese, for example, then the distinctly Australian idioms that you've chosen for your latest piece of content could lose your audience.
7 - Write For Your Audience
What are the interests of your audience? What subjects are they concerned with? What interests might they have, if they are also interested in your business? Say your business sells dirt bikes, for example. It's not too much of a stretch or suggestion that you could write content covering recent motocross championships or a new track that's opened up in the area. In these circumstances, you can use your buyer personas - your fictional, but ideal customers - to help you understand what other topics or language conventions might appeal better to your audience.
This is not to say that you should fill your content with industry jargon. I've got a whole blog post on why you shouldn't use industry jargon that you can check out here (in short, it alienates your audience.) But, if there are some overarching and/or basic language conventions that your customers are likely to use in their everyday vocabulary, then use these where appropriate.
8 - Proof Your Writing
Do you have a proofreading buddy or an editor? You should. If you don't, then grab your grammar-enthusiastic co-worker and ask them to give your writing a once-over before it goes live. Having a fresh set of eyes and a second opinion on your copy is a highly-advisable course of action, since they'll be able to tell you when your conversational writing is on point, and when it probably needs to tuck its shirt in. So to speak.
But in all seriousness, an editor can help you work out what parts of your copy are great, and they'll be able to identify what parts of your copy need work. They should also be able to explain how to change those parts of your copy to make them better.
Editing conversational writing is more about reading it out aloud, and making sure that everything makes sense. Why is this important?
When we physically speak to other people, there's usually an open channel of communication. If something is misunderstood, there's the opportunity to clarify what was said. When you turn that conversation into written word, the words you've said stay around for longer, meaning that if there is a miscommunication, that mistake is going to confuse people for a long time. In addition, each of us speak differently. This is what allows your writing as a content creator to have a personality and an individual voice.
This can also mean that there are things that you say, that make sense to you, that might not make sense to other people. I've got a collection of sayings and phrases inherited from my family that make conversational sense to me, but not to anyone else, and having someone else give my content a once-over before publication means that I don't have to write some kind of follow-up explaining a phrase like 'gas good'.
Conversational writing breaks down the barrier of formality that might otherwise alienate you as a content writer from your readers. If you are able to write in a way that makes your readers feel like you're speaking directly to them, you'll be able to build a connection that can be counted on when they convert to leads and close as customers. Being able to communicate your content in a way that promotes a positive response is a powerful thing. Use it well.