Whether it’s a cover letter for your resume, a sales pitch to a client, a blog post, a Twitter tweet, or an internal business proposal, all of us need to write in a way that draws the reader closer to us.
We need writing that’s compelling, interesting, and unique. We need writing that’s magnetic.
Some think that magnetic writing is all about talent. But a few simple techniques can make any piece of writing more compelling.
Here are ten ways to help you write copy that draws the reader closer:
1. Don’t hedge
“Hedging” is when you go out of your way to cover every contingency in an argument. Example: “Nowadays many middle-school girls have at least some affinity for vampires.” The hedges are “almost all” and “at least some affinity.” These may be strictly true, but it’s soft, pudgy wording that lacks punch. Instead: “Nowadays middle-school girls love vampires.”
2. Repeat a phrase
Repetition establishes structure and rhythm. Repetition taps into the old part of our brain that loves rhyme and meter. Repetition pulls the reader into the flow of your writing. Repetition isn’t difficult to use. Repetition is your friend. Repetition is annoying if overused.
3. No passive voice
Passive voice is when you switch the positions of the subject and object of a sentence. For example: “The boy hit the ball” is in active voice; passive voice is: “The ball is hit by the boy.” Notice how passive voice uses more words without adding information — usually a warning sign of flabby writing.
The wrongness of passive voice isn’t universal, but wouldn’t it have been clearer if I had said that passive voice isn’t always wrong?
I don’t care how good your writing is, most people won’t read more than a few sentences. Any more and they’ll start scanning. You probably aren’t reading this article exactly from top to bottom are you? In fact, you’re probably not even reading this sentence. Man, for a discussion about brevity this sure is dragging on. You can fight it by being more entertaining, but the best policy is to just write less.
5. Use short sentences.
Short sentences are easy to read. They’re easy to digest. It’s easier to follow each point of an argument. Sometimes longer sentences — especially if divided up with dashes — are an appropriate tool, especially mixed in with shorter sentences to break things up. If you think short sentences are incompatible with excellent writing, read Stephen King. Or Hemingway. Or Basho.
6. Provoke, don’t solve
If you’re writing a report that is supposed to cover all the bases, this tip doesn’t apply. But if you’re trying to be persuasive (particularly if you’re creating a content net), don’t try to handle every objection in one sitting. Your goal is to get the other person to respond: To ask you about a feature of your product, to challenge your assumptions about a competitor, to double-check something before scheduling an interview. Don’t solve every problem, leaving no stone unturned; leave them wanting more!
7. Eliminate trash adjectives
Most adjectives and adverbs don’t add information; they just take up space and dull your message. Example: “I’m very interested in quickly scheduling an in-person interview.” Remove the adjectives and you get the same message, but sharper: “I’m interested in scheduling an interview.”
8. Be direct
Pardon me, dear reader, but if it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience, could I trouble you to do me the favor of applying your obvious considerable facility with the English language to just get to the damn point?
Flowery, respectful and qualified wording is appropriate when you’re asking a waiter to do you a favor without spitting in your food. But it has no place in magnetically persuasive writing.
9. Tell a story
I knew a guy named George who couldn’t figure out why people couldn’t understand the benefits of his software. He had feature and benefit bullet points but they just weren’t sinking in. One day George changed his tactics completely. He wrote up a one-paragraph story about how one of his customers saved $125k by using his software. After that, sales were a lot easier.
10. Write informally
Sure, informal writing isn’t “professional.” And yeah, using phrases like and yeah violates the brevity rule. But it’s usually smart to write like you talk. Being informal helps you come off as a real person, not a stodgy, robotic copy writer.
‘course, it can git to be too durned much, s’don’t go ’round makin’ it hard to just plain understand what in blazes yur talking ’bout.
They say first impressions are most important, and often your written word will be the first impression someone has of you! So take the time and care to make it magnetic.
About the Author: Jason Cohen is the founder of Smart Bear Software. He blogs weekly about marketing, startups, and general geekery at A Smart Bear.