I’ve always been a bit of a show-off with my writing. After years of excelling in academic writing before moving on to articles about serious human rights issues, I’ve always been of the mindset that if I want people to read my work, I have to be a ‘good writer,’ and being a good writer involves a certain amount of showing off.
By ‘showing off,’ I mean using 15 words when I could have used 5, waffling my way around the point to sound intelligent while actually just managing to make everything a lot more complicated than it needed to be.
For years, this style of writing has been considered superior.
Professors emphasise that this way of writing makes you sound more authoritative, more qualified, more professional.
But are they right?
Recently, I came across an article by Paul Graham called ‘Should We Write Like We Talk?’ and as soon as I saw the title, I was intrigued.
The gist of what Paul says in the article is that there are two types of language - written language and spoken language, and that if you want people to read what you have to say, you should be using spoken language when you write.
Spoken language is the way we talk to our friends. It is peppered with slang, minor grammatical errors, and simple words. We use short sentences and try to get straight to the point.
Written language, on the other hand, is, well, the way we write. Most of us adapt a very different style of language when we write verses when we talk. We become more formal, we use longer words and often find ourselves using turns of phrase that would seem ridiculous if we said them in conversation with friends.
In short, we have a telephone voice when we write.
Graham argues that, contrary to popular opinion, better writers use spoken language rather than written language. In other words, they write like they talk.
His reasons are simple - written language is more complex, meaning that it takes more work to read it, and if you want people to read your work then you shouldn’t make it difficult for them.
He has a point.
As an academic writer turned blogger, I’ve had my own struggles transitioning from writing the kind of pieces that a university professor would love to the kind of down-to-earth, conversational style that most people prefer.
I’ve come to accept the fact that complex sentences are not needed to express complex ideas, and that actually, written language gives the impression that you are saying way more than you actually are.
Think of it this way: written language is the kind of language you see politicians using - it says a lot without saying a thing.
Not only that, but written English can often wind up sounding stuffy or distant, and if you want your brand or business to be approachable and appealing to people, the last thing you want is to end up sounding like a robot.
The average human being has an 8th grade reading level, so to get my readers to engage with my content and keep coming back for more, I have to write in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore to read. My readers often tell me that the thing they love the most about my blog is how easy it is to read and how my personality shines through in my posts, making my writing stand out in what is a very competitive field.
And that’s where writing like you speak can benefit YOU.
Most people naturally write in written language, and so if you write like you speak, you already have a head-start against your competitors. With millions of posts being published every single day, you need to set yourself apart and stand out from the crowd.
Spoken language also makes your brand seem approachable and trustworthy. This is because spoken language is REAL. It is human. When someone reads an article that is conversational and informal, they feel as though they are closer to the person behind the computer, meaning that your clients will be more engaged and open to doing business with you.
Formal language is outdated and clashes with the way that we read. Most people consuming content online want their questions and concerns addressed quickly and directly. They don’t care if your writing could put Shakespeare to shame - they care about being entertained and educated in a way that doesn’t waste their time. When you write for your audience you speak directly to their specific needs and create a bond with them, which is likely to convert to sales in the future.
So, now you know why writing like you speak is so important, let’s examine just how we do that without sounding unprofessional.
The main thing to remember is that you don’t want to sound unprofessional. If you wrote exactly how you speak, your writing would be littered with filler words (um, ah, er), repetition, unfinished sentences and slang words. Not only would this be almost impossible to read, but you would come across sounding sloppy and not exactly the kind of person that people want to do business with.
The trick is not to overdo it. Write in a way that flows and sounds conversational, without getting carried away. Ask somebody else to read it over for you if you’re worried you’ve gone too far.
In written English, we shy away from contractions (don’t, can’t, aren’t), but if we were to write how we talk, we’d use them all the time!
Using contractions in our writing makes us sound less stiff and more human, which is exactly what we want.
Don’t waffle. Use short spunky sentences to get your point across and keep the readers interested.
Don’t be afraid of addressing the reader directly. Instead of saying ‘businesses can’ or ‘one can,’ try ‘you can,’ to make the reader feel more involved.
You can also use yourself in examples (‘this strategy worked great for me’) to give it an even more personal touch.
This boosts engagement massively. Asking questions gets your reader thinking and if you have a comment box on your blog, it can be a great place for readers to discuss the things you’ve said in your post and for you to interact with them directly, building a relationship.
When you add interjections (ouch, phew, oops), it breaks up the text and adds to the casual, informal feel that you’re going for.
People don’t want to be confronted with a wall of text. Break your writing up into tiny paragraphs to stop your readers attention from wandering.
It’s also a good idea to use quality images with funny captions to keep people on your page for longer.
Before I hit publish, I ALWAYS make a point of reading my article out loud and asking yourself whether you sound like you’re talking to a friend.
If a sentence sounds too long or convoluted, change it.
This is also a great way of catching typos that you may have missed while proof-reading.
I hope that I’ve given you some food for thought and useful tips that you can try out the next time you write a blog post or article for your business.
Writing like you speak definitely takes a bit of getting used to, and it might take a minute to believe that yes, you can write this way without compromising your authority, but trust me when I say that your clients will definitely thank you for it!
What do you think? Do you agree that writing like you speak can be good for business or have I not convinced you? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!