My grammar professor in college gave me my favorite piece of writing advice: write how you speak. When I first heard it, I thought he was just being his quirky, slightly controversial self, but almost ten years later (it’s okay, I’m cool with my age), this writing tip continues to help.
For years, I had tried to sound more sophisticated than I really was. I’d fill pages with fluff just to hit the required word count for school essays rather than writing anything that sounded authentic.
As weird as it felt, my professor’s advice changed my writing. It made my words sound more natural and flow much better. It can do the same for you!
You Might Write Too Formally...
I’ve edited dozens of documents and essays for family members, friends, co-workers, and clients. One common mistake I’ve noticed is that people tend to over-complicate and over-explain in their writing. Maybe they feel unsure of whether or not they’re making their point effectively, so they go in circles or add writing that doesn’t sound natural.
A co-worker of mine struggled with this. He repeated himself throughout his essays or emails, which resulted in complicated writing that didn’t make much sense. When he worked on writing how he speaks, it made a surprising difference. He started writing more concisely, and his message was a lot clearer.
You’d probably be surprised to realize that your writing would be better if you made it a bit more conversational, especially as a blog writer. Unless your blog is targeted to a super professional market (I don’t know why, but I always think of engineers or IT guys), then your content should be fairly informal. Leave the formal tone for instructions that nobody reads (except my husband…he actually does).
How Does It Help To Write Like You Speak?
I don’t know where you are in your dating process, but have you ever gone on a date with someone who was clearly just trying to impress you? Instead of connecting with you, they were just trying to make you think they were smart or cool.
People do this kind of thing when they write too, especially trying to sound as smart as possible. I get it—this is an important opportunity to share your thoughts without any interruption. However, if you sound too intense or formal, you’ll lose your readers’ attention and they’ll move on. That’s worse than getting interrupted.
Something I’ve noticed while editing is that when people try to make things sound more intelligent (in an unnatural way), they often just create content that’s more confusing and unreadable.
Back to the dating analogy: would you want someone to work on impressing you or connecting with you? For me, connection wins by a long shot. I think it’s probably the same for you.
When you’re writing a blog post, you want your readers to be able to connect with you. Writing how you speak will help them feel like you’re talking to them. Isn’t that what you like when you’re reading? You don’t want to feel like the person on the date who’s sitting on the other side of the table playing with your straw wrapper, trying not to look bored while your date talks about water-cooler gossip you know nothing about.
Even though your readers might not respond in the form of an actual conversation when reading your engaging content, they’ll respond with comments, pins, and loyalty. If they like how you talk to them, they’ll keep coming back to see what you have to say.
Consider the Circumstances
Writing how you speak will change depending on circumstances. Sometimes you have to be more formal, but with blog writing, the tone should usually be conversational and informal. If you’re writing for a client or for your 9-5 job, they may have specific guidelines you need to follow. For example, I used to write for a digital marketing company for dentists. I could write how I speak to a certain extent, but it obviously wouldn’t be appropriate to write at the same personal level as I do on my blog.
Think of it like a scale of personal voice: when you’re writing a text, that’s probably the lowest on the scale, but writing instructions for how to use a digital scanner would probably be on the highest end of the spectrum. I think of blog posts as somewhere just personal social media posts on this imaginary scale.
When I write my blog posts, I like to write in a way that would be appropriate for a podcast. I’m trying to write in a way that is engaging for another person and allows them to think about what I’m saying without falling asleep.
What do you think is appropriate for your blog? Can you write like you’re chatting with pals or do you think you need to be a bit more formal?
Ways to Write How You Would Speak
Okay, so what the heck does it mean to write in a conversational tone? Here are some little tips to help.
If you were recording a podcast or having a conversation with another person, you would use conjunctions. Do the same in your writing to make it sound more natural and not so hoity-toity.
Before you write, say it in your head.
I don’t know if this is weird, but I do this all the time. And when I’m editing, I read my writing aloud. You don’t have to do this with every single word, but doing this from time to time will train your brain to express yourself in writing the same way you would verbally.
Imagine you’re having a conversation with a friend.
How would you explain your topic? Would this change the way you write? Writing as if you are interacting with a friend can help make your content more engaging, but also easier to understand. People often forget to explain vocabulary that may be specific to their particular field or area of interest (also known as jargon, which may be jargon itself…).
Write your first draft quickly.
I mention this tip a lot because it’s so helpful. If you quickly write your first draft, without editing until you’re completely finished with your post, your words will come out more naturally. I understand how hard it is not to edit and use the backspace button on repeat, but it will help your authentic voice to come out if you just type without the worry of how it all sounds just yet.
Read your writing aloud when you’re done.
This will help you catch mistakes, but it’ll also help you determine whether or not your writing sounds natural. (Check this out for more tips for self-editing your blog posts.)
Use Talk-to-Text to record your blog post.
You might feel weird about talking to yourself at first, but hey, it’s cool. I’ve heard several people suggest using talk-to-text to record your blog post. Obviously it won’t be ready for you to push the publish button right away, but it’s a start and it’s an excellent way to write how you talk because you are talking.
I tried this using the Notes app on my iPhone, and it was terrible. I’ve seen others suggest the Otter app and plain old Google Docs.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this tip. Have you tried it out? Comment below!
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