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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Wagner

What you learned about writing in school? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

Remember some of those papers you wrote in college? Long-winded, academic, full of big and bigger words designed to impress...whom? Your professors, maybe. Your classmates. Yourself. "Woo-hoo," you think, after consulting your thesaurus, "I'm gonna write "utilize" instead of "use." That sounds better, right? Smarter? Well, maybe—then.

But here you are, five, ten, twenty years later. And if any part of your job requires you to persuade others, your writing has a different job. It has to engage. Connect. So the best thing you can do now is unlearn what you learned in school. (Ok, not everything. Subjects and verbs still have to agree.)

Write conversationally to connect with readers

A recent post on a favorite site of mine, Copyblogger, reinforced everything I often share with others, and offers excellent tips on how to write conversationally. Some of my favorites include:

Quit writing to everyone. For example, in your blog post or email blast, don't say "Thanks to all of you who have signed up." You're not addressing a crowd; you're addressing one reader at a time. "...'those of you'..." feels impersonal," the author points out. Pretend instead that you're talking to one person at a time, in a friendly conversation: "Thank you so much for signing up..."

Don't write to impress. If you're the guy who loves your MBA jargon, well, don't be. Kick it to the curb. Also, simplify unnecessarily flowery construction.

> Instead of "Should you need further information, don't hesitate to contact me," say "Please call me if you'd like to know more."

Shorten your sentences. If you get out of breath reading it out loud, it's too long.

Break a few rules. It can be hard to break them well, however. Practiced, professional copywriters take years to master the rule-breaking. Included in the blog post:

"> It's ok to start sentences with "and," "but" or "or." Just make sure the rest of your content flows well.

> Create one-sentence paragraphs to create emphasis.

> "Use broken sentences. Broken sentences don’t necessarily befuddle readers; they often add clarity. By stressing words. (Like that.)"

After all, who doesn't like breaking a few rules?

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