How to achieve eloquence in your writing

Wednesday, 07 September 2016 by

The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines “eloquence” as ‘fluent or persuasive speaking or writing’ – and “eloquent” as ‘clearly expressive’. So I hope it’s clear why it would help you if either term could be used to describe your business writing.

However, knowing the definitions doesn’t necessarily help you to write with eloquence… which is why I’m going to give you a few tips on one aspect of that very subject.

By the way, Eloquence is the fourth part of my PAGES text-analysis – the process I follow when highlighting the areas for improvement in a client’s writing. In previous blogs, I’ve discussed Power, Architecture and Grammar, all of which can also have an impact upon fluency, persuasiveness and clarity.

We’ll look at Style another time, so for now we’re concentrating on Eloquence. To achieve this quality in your writing, you need to pay attention to your word choices, to clarity and brevity, to the use of plain English, and to avoiding clichés (“like the plague”). Let’s look at just the first of these for now:

Word choices

It may seem obvious, but the vocabulary you choose has an impact on how easily someone can read your message. However, if you’re writing about a business (your own, or the one you work for), it’s easy to get caught in the trap of trying to impress the reader with your word power.

Even when you’re writing to a highly targeted group of brain surgeons, professors, or others possessing above-average intelligence, writing as if you’ve swallowed a dictionary won’t work. By which I mean, it’s very unlikely to help you gain their attention, maintain their interest, or encourage them to do whatever it is you’re asking them to do (e.g. go to your website; attend a conference; pay for your products and services).

[As an aside, some of the best examples of how to write to an intelligent audience come from the advertising of “The Economist”. Just Google for images of ‘Economist advertising’ to see some examples. Note how the words used are quite simple; it’s just that the way they’re used, and the concept behind the ad/poster, is purposefully designed to engage an intelligent reader.]

 

Anyway, back to your word choices – why is it so unlikely that you’ll achieve your aims if you write using pseudo-intelligent vocabulary? There are a couple of reasons:

  1. Such language can come across as pompous, pretentious and self-important: not the most endearing characteristics and, I bet, not the ones that are consistent with your company’s branding;
  2. Longer, more complex words (and sentences) are harder to read at the first time of asking. For anyone.

It doesn’t matter how clever someone is. It’s immaterial how much time he or she has on their hands (and senior hospital staff, professional academics and the rest tend not to be all that idle!). The fact is, nobody has the capacity to “get” a 30-word plus sentence full of multiple-syllable words on a first pass. They’ll need to go back and re-read the sentence – and that’s just not going to happen with a piece of (unsolicited?) communication.

Solution?

Use the words that 70-80% of all people understand and use every day – the vocabulary that you use in your conversations.

This ensures that you not only reach a wider audience, but that more of the individuals within it actually understand your message – without re-reading it. This isn’t about “dumbing down”, but rather about keeping your reader – and their fears, aspirations and time constraints – in mind, and writing accordingly. Your words, sentences and overall message can still sing, it’ll just take a little more of your time and skills to make it do so.

Also, it’s worth remembering that when talking of conversational language, I don’t (generally) mean slang, which is too unprofessional in a business-to-business context. However, it may be appropriate if you’re writing to consumers – particularly the youth market. Also, the day-to-day vocabulary you use shouldn’t include jargon… unless you’re absolutely sure that every reader will understand the meaning behind the latest buzz-words.

 

Enough on word choices for now – although you can probably see from the above how clarity and brevity, the use of plain English, and avoiding clichés are all inter-related with this subject. We may look at those in the future – but in the meantime…

If you commission RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response. This will consider the Power of your writing and its Architecture, Grammar, Eloquence and Style.

To discuss what you need, please get in touch.

Duz gramma matta?

Tuesday, 03 May 2016 by

Ready to buy

Image: bbc.co.uk

When browsing the web, reading a brochure, or consuming any other written communication, how bothered are you by the grammar? Or, more accurately, by the correctness of the grammar?

By “grammar”, I’m talking about more than the dictionary definition that mentions syntax – the structure or arrangement of words and phrases. Yes, I’m including typos, spelling mistakes and incorrect (or absent) punctuation too. And, given that definition, consider this: does a spelling mistake, misplaced letter or absent comma get your goat? Or, worse still (for the message-provider), make you think less of them; distrust them, even?

The answer to either question appears to be a matter of opinion, as well as context. We’ll all forgive such things in an email or text message from a friend (and if we can’t, we probably don’t have that many friends anyway). But what if the mistake-ridden message is on a business website? Or in a sales letter from a charity or other organisation?

Are you more inclined to disbelieve the facts that have been presented within the content? Do the errors make the company appear less credible and/or capable? Are you less likely to act upon the message (in the way the writer/ organisation would like you to)?

Having Googled for statistics about the importance of grammar and its impact (upon reputation, sales and other criteria), it’s clear that there’s not much research into this area – or little that’s published, anyway. It could be that firms are doing A/B tests with correct versus incorrect grammar to see if it makes a difference to whether someone clicks or buys… but if they are, it’s not in the public domain as far as I can see.

So, that leaves us with our gut-instinct and/or personal experience. Of a certain age (i.e. I was taught grammar and spelling at school) and a professional copywriter, I have to admit to being swayed by poor grammar – in a negative way.

While acknowledging that we all make mistakes, and that language is constantly evolving, I also happen to believe that businesses should ensure they check and correct their writing before publication. Firstly, it shows they care and that they’re diligent. Secondly, it supports clear communication – a text riddled with errors isn’t as easy to read as the same message that’s been proofed and amended so that it’s grammatically correct.

Checking your work

So, as well as spell-and-grammar checking your texts, you should also print them off and read them out loud – so that you can hear the mistakes (and/or get someone else to do it). Then, you should proof-read them, looking at each word in turn, from the end of the doc backwards. Yes, from the end of the piece back towards the start. Doing it that way stops your brain from assuming what’s likely to come next, and therefore allows you to spot missing words.

It’s pain-staking work but, I’d argue, worth it. Getting it right won’t offend anybody, while getting it wrong may do.

However, if you’d like an alternative to all that hard work… hire a copywriter 😉

If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response. We consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message, its Architecture (structure; logical flow) and Grammar – as defined above – plus Eloquence and Style.

 

 

Brochure layout

When you’re thinking about writing more than a couple of hundred words, it’s worthwhile planning a structure. And there are quite a few ways to do it… here are just three:

The sketch

The image is the plan I sketched out before starting to write the local primary school’s prospectus. We’d agreed a broad outline for the content – see below – and figured out we’d need a 16-page brochure. My task then was to organise all of the topics we wanted to include into a logical sequence.

To determine the content, I thought about the audience for the prospectus – parents thinking about sending their child(ren) to the school. Since my own daughter and son attend, I was at an advantage because I had personal experience of the situation. Even so, I made a point of talking to the school’s representatives – and other parents I know – about what they thought should be included.

With ideas about the content and page count in place, I wanted to have a visual guide too. The sketch that I created shows me what each page should look like and what each headline should be. I then mapped the content we had across to this rough layout and started honing any existing text and writing fresh copy.

The inverted pyramid

Broadcast, print, and digital journalists all use this technique when creating their news articles, since it puts the most important information first.

The approach dates back to the days of type-setting, when the simplest way to reduce an amount of text so that it fitted into a certain space was to take out words from the end. This encouraged reporters (who didn’t know in advance how much space their story would occupy) to get the most news-worthy elements as near to the start of the story as possible. Incidentally, this would mean answering 6 basic questions within the first few sentences: who? what? when? where? why? how?

Here’s how it looks:

Inverted Pyramid

When you’re writing a press release that you’d like published, this is also the technique to employ. For more on “How to write an effective press release” please go to this website’s Free Reads page.

The AIDCA technique

While this sounds like a title for a Robert Ludlum novel (the creator of Jason Bourne, and author of books such as “The Sigma Protocol” and “The Holcroft Covenant”), it’s instead a step-by-step guide to structuring your copy.

The first “A” is about Attention – competing with the thousands of other communications received by a reader and ensuring that it’s yours he or she pays attention to. The “I” is for interest – how do you arouse and maintain it? – and the “D” for desire – what can you do to engage emotionally with your reader? The “C” is about conviction – ensuring the reader is convinced by your argument(s), feels reassured and that the risk of doing something is minimal. The second “A” is about action – asking the reader to do that something that they weren’t necessarily considering before reading your text.

There are various ways to put each AIDCA step into practice (e.g. at least 12 types of headline exist and you can use them to gain Attention) – and too many to mention here. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.

If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response.

We’ll consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message, its Architecture – as defined above – and Grammar, and also look at Eloquence and Style.

3 power tests for your writing

Thursday, 01 October 2015 by

When a prospective or existing client asks RichWords to assess an example of their writing, we use a step-by-step system of analysis called PAGES.

The “P” stands for Power – we’ll consider the other elements in future posts – and we judge the strength or weakness of the sample by answering these three questions:

1)       How persuasive is the writing?

With the right structure and language, you can address your reader’s likely objections and lead him/her through a series of logical steps to the call to action.

2)       How reader-centric is the writing?

If the text addresses the reader’s concerns, talks about benefits, and uses “you” more than “we”, it will achieve a higher power score than a piece of writing that does none or just some of these things.

3)       How effective is the writing?

Scoring well on (1) and (2) goes some way to scoring highly on effectiveness, although other factors come into play too. Does the headline and overall design (for example) create an impact? Is the call to action simple or complex? And so on.

Today’s post will focus on persuasiveness – how you should structure your text, and what language you should use. Get these things right, and you’ll keep people reading and convince and persuade them to take action.

Building your case

What’s the best structure to use when writing your marketing messages? The answer is… it all depends.

Some differences in structure relate to the audience you’re addressing. For example, you should set out a written press release in a specific way that’s designed for that collateral – read about it in How to write a press release that journalists will read and act upon.

With any other marketing materials, you can use a technique that successful salespeople (and copywriters) employ: AIDCA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, Action):

  • Attention is all about grabbing the reader with one of 12 types of arresting headline
  • Interest relates to keeping readers engaged by writing from their perspective
  • Desire involves unlocking the emotions of your reader
  • Conviction is about reducing the perceived risks that your reader associates with your product or service
  • Action relies on you addressing all of the above, and then making the call-to-action clear and easy to follow

You can learn more about AIDCA on the RichWords one-day Copywriting Fundamentals training course. We can tailor this to your needs, or you can attend one of our open courses – more coming in 2016 – for delegates from a range of organisations.

Using the right language

To choose the right language, you have to bear your reader in mind as well as your own branding and tone of voice.

We say “reader” (singular) because addressing one person rather than a mass of people helps you connect to every reader in turn. To do this, use the word “you “ (as a singular, not plural, pronoun) more than you use “I”, “we” or your company name, and adopt a conversational tone too – writing as if you’re speaking to someone. These techniques will create a more personal tone in your writing, even if the reality is that you’re communicating with dozens or even thousands of people.

In addition, you should write about what matters to your reader: empathise with their issues and problems, and explain how your product(s) and/or service(s) can help to solve them. And remember to write about benefits, not just features.

What’s tone of voice?

Simply put, tone of voice is the way your words sound to your reader – and the way the words make him or her feel. So you have to decide what your brand stands for (as well as why it’s unique) and then capture that through your word choices.

Your tone can be: formal or informal; youthful or traditional; posh-sounding and intellectual or full of slang (I’d recommend somewhere in the middle of those extremes) and so on. Getting the tone right is one of the hardest parts of writing… which is why many organisations turn to a professional copywriting firm for help. To discuss this further, please get in touch.

 

If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response.

We’ll consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message – as defined above – and its Architecture, Grammar, Eloquence and Style.

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