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How to Master Conversational Writing

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
Dodgeball seo conversational writing

When was the last time you read a textbook and enjoyed it?

Exactly. It was probably a bit robotic, technical, and difficult to read.

It’s the opposite of the conversational style of writing that’s become popular in recent years.

Why do people prefer to read conversational writing?

Because it’s easier to scan, more fun to read, and far more engaging than other writing styles.

(See what I did there? I used conversational writing to explain — and provide an example of — conversational writing!)

Here are top tips from the awesome writers in our network about how to make your writing more conversational.

1. Ask Engaging Questions

Why did you choose your current hairstyle?

I grabbed your attention and got you thinking, right?

That’s the power of asking an engaging question at the beginning of a piece of content or section of it.

It’s a tactic you’d use to start a conversation in person. It’s also a good way to begin one on the page, screen, video, or social post as well. It makes people engaging with your content feel like you’re talking with them, not at them.

Questions are a great way to grab attention, but not necessarily keep it.

2. Use Short Sentences

Think about it: Do you speak in long, run-on sentences?

Of course not. Our brains don’t work that way during normal conversations, only when we’re in a panic or confused.

Our brains are unable to connect together too many complex concepts in a single statement when we speak. The same is true when we listen or engage with content. Readers, listeners, and viewers of content are unable to connect together too many thoughts and understand what they mean. They’re more likely to tune out because the information you’re presenting to them is too complex to comprehend.

Make it a point to keep sentences short or mid-length whenever possible—no more than one or two thoughts per statement. People will have a chance to process one concept before moving on to the next. Leverage punctuation and connecting words to explain how your individual sentences – and thoughts — link together.

When you use short sentences, vary the structure of them. If they’re too similar, you could lose readers because your content may be viewed as repetitive and boring.

3. Use Different Types of Type

You don’t speak in a monotone voice. If you did, no one would pay attention to you. Instead, you whisper, shout, extend certain words and shorten others. You vary your tone.

You should use your type treatments to do the same. Bold the things that are serious. Italicize things that are witty or humorous. Underline critical information, so it gets noticed.

Don’t change your type all the time. That way, when you do, it will get noticed and be meaningful.

4. Choose Simple Words

Simple words are comprehended instantly. Complex ones stop you in your tracks so you can decode them.

If you want people to move smoothly through your content, never use complex terms when simple ones will do. Or use complex ones strategically, in places where you actually want people to stop and think about what you’re communicating.

The best communicators are able to use simple terminology to explain the most complex concepts in person or on the page. If you find this challenging, think about how you’d explain what you’re trying to write to a friend sitting across from you in a coffee shop. It’s likely you’ll find the words you need if you think of your writing process in terms of a conversation.

When proofing your work, always ask yourself: Will people have to stop to figure out what a term means?

5. Put the Focus on You

What’s the first thing most people say when they greet someone?

In most cases, it’s, “How are you?”

And the emphasis is on the you.

It shows the people you’re interacting with that you’re focused on them and you care.

The same should be true in your content. When you regularly reference the second person, you make it clear that you’re talking to your readers, viewers, and listeners and that the message is for their benefit.

When you write, imagine that you’re communicating with a friend. It’s a sure way to make certain your content is focused on your reader.

6. Use I Instead of WE

Many business writers revert to using the word we in their content because they’re communicating as the business. This makes content feel very impersonal. It tends to cause readers to lose trust because it suggests that the writer is hiding behind institutional walls. Needless to say, it’s hard to have genuine conversations through barriers.

Instead, use the term “I”. “I” comes with a face, whether it’s yours or that of someone you’re ghostwriting for. An “I” gives readers someone to focus on and imagine they’re having a conversation with.

7. Use Jargon Thoughtfully

Many writers make it a rule to never use jargon. However, in certain situations, it can be a good thing.

If you’re communicating with people who are all part of the same industry, and you’re sure they’ll understand jargon, use it. It will make them feel that they’re a part of a club and you are too. In this case, jargon encourages engagement with your content.

However, when a certain part of your audience doesn’t understand a bit of jargon, you’ll alienate them because you’ll make them feel uninformed and that they’re not a part of the group. Not only will they not engage with the content they’re reading, they may reject your entire blog and business outright, as well.

8. Read Your Own Text Out loud.

Words on a page — or screen — can look very conversational. But are they really conversational? The only way to know for certain is to read them out loud or have someone read your content to you. Does it sound like a conversation or a lecture?

If it’s the former, it’s time to reframe your lecture into a conversation.

9. Divide Your Content into Understandable Units

You wouldn’t keep talking until you were sure your listener heard you. The same should be true of your content.

When you develop content, give your readers, viewers, and listeners a chance to stop and think. Whether you break things into short paragraphs, chapters, episodes, or other units, give people a chance to pause to ensure they understand the ideas you’re conveying before they move on. It’s the only way they’ll be able to explore your content at their own pace and continue the conversation when they’re ready.

10. Use Contractions

When is the last time you said, it is, he is or she is?

Probably never.

If you’re like most people, you immediately slide into it’s, he’s and she’s.

Contractions make it easier to speak.

They should be used in your writing, as well. Using too much formal terminology without contractions will make your writing seem stilted. Sprinkle them in, so your content feels casual, so people feel comfortable engaging with it.

11. Communicate with Personality

Every person in a conversation brings their personality into it. If you want your content to be conversational, you must reveal yourself in it.

When you read your content, see if you can find bits of your unique self in it. If you can’t, it’s time for a personality infusion. Work in some stories, tone, words, and messages that are uniquely YOU. It will make your content feel like it was created by a human and not a content creation bot.

For more on this topic, make sure to read our blog article Nine Simple Tips to Help You Write Better.

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