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In this digital age of SEO and algorithms, it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that writing is some kind of wizardry with a set of secret formulas.
But the truth is, much as it’s important to optimise your writing for search engines and social media, it’s a human being that’s going to read your writing (and act or wander off to another site).
It makes sense to write with a real life human in mind, right?
So how do you write for humans? And why the heck do we even need to ask that question?
I reckon there’s two things going on here. The first is the underlying anxiety that Miss Clarke, English teacher 1970s/80s/90s (& beyond – hello young people) triggered in you when she went rogue with the red pen on your Of Mice and Men essay.
And secondly, there’s so much noise out there convincing you that your writing won’t crack the secret code of that there internet that you’ve given up before you’ve even started.
And there you have it – past and present working in cahoots together to convince you you’re not worthy, you can’t do this writing thing and you should give up right now.
Let’s just take stock for a moment. Miss Clarke was just doing her job. She’s not a bad person. And anyway, you’re not writing for her. Are your prospective customers English teachers? Probably not. So, relax.
And the internet. Oh my, where do we start? SEO, algorithms, social media – they are a thing. And they are important. Don’t let them defeat you though. You can learn that stuff as you go along. Here’s a fact – if you do nothing, then you won’t get found. People can’t read what doesn’t exist.
Done is better than perfect. So, get writing and get some stuff out there. Here’s some tips on how you can write for that mysterious creature – the human being.
Write as you Speak
WAYS (an acronym for write as you speak) is a known formula amongst copywriters. Increasingly, I’m seeing it referred to as Write like you speak which kind of proves the point it’s trying to make.
Always think of your writing as a conversation. How would you tell someone what you do? What type of language would you use? How do your sentences flow? How do they start and stop? Clue – probably nothing like the way you’ve been taught to write English.
A good trick is to record yourself explaining your product/service and processes as if speaking to a friend and then transcribe it into writing (do take out the umms and ahs though).
Don’t worry – no baby talk here. By contractions, I mean the shortening of two words (such as can’t instead of cannot, won’t instead of will not, shouldn’t instead of should not – you get the gist).
I am a copywriter. True. But if I was chatting to you, I’d almost certainly say I’m a copywriter. Just flows better doesn’t it?
Apologies but I cannot come to your networking event. Sounds a bit blunt doesn’t it? Or a bit too formal at least. Sorry, I can’t make it to your networking event has a better ring to it. And it’s warmer somehow.
That’s the thing with contractions. They sound less formal, more friendly and warm. More human.
Ditch fancy words and jargon
Back to that goddam school essay. Hands up if you ever wrote a sentence at school/college and then got the thesaurus out to look up some big, impressive words? Yep. Me too.
But the point is, you had to look them up because you’d never heard of them. So your audience probably won’t either.
The trouble with big, fancy words is your average person doesn’t understand them. Big words make ordinary people feel stupid. Nobody needs to feel like that! Language isn’t about making other people feel small or disconnected. Especially when you’re trying to sell them something.
I have a 12 year old son with autism and the most important thing in the world is that he understands me when I speak to him. That I use language that he relates to – language that includes him. And it’s the same with copywriting.
(The exception to this is if you’re writing stuff for other people in your area of expertise (B2B business to business) then there may be a case for using jargon. It may be necessary to do so to demonstrate your level of competence and expertise.)
Be helpful, friendly and polite
Not everyone will agree with this one. Writing controversial copy that triggers, disrupts and aggravates is a method used to get attention. I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but surely there’s a better way?
Personally, I prefer the helpful, friendly and polite road. You’re providing a product or service and you want the buy to trust you enough to buy from you.
The same goes with swearing. I’ll tell you now, I swear like a trouper when I’ve stubbed my toe or the dog’s been sick on the carpet. No judgements here. But it’s rare that you’ll come across that type of language in my copy. Maybe sometimes. I’m not so worried about causing offence but I do understand that some readers may feel threatened and, in my mind, that doesn’t build trust.
It’s your call though – always keep the audience in mind and don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve.
Possibly the biggest buzz word around right now – everyone’s talking about authenticity and trying to work out how to achieve it.
Crazy really when being authentic should mean simply to be yourself. The key is not to create a phony persona that you can’t keep up. People will see though it. And who can be bothered to keep that up anyway?
Stick to your true self and work within your own values and you can’t go wrong.
Word of caution though. There’s a fine line between showing your true self and working to your own values and sharing every tiny part of you and your life. Again, the choice is yours. I think it’s great to include personal elements of your life and journey – that’s how you create a story. People respond and relate to real life stories. I love them.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re obliged to share everything about you and your personal life. Social media is fab, but it has a lot to answer for!
You can set your own boundaries depending on your own comfort levels.
I do hope you’ve found these ideas a useful starting point. As a human yourself, did you find my writing easy to understand? Do tell! I’m always open to constructive feedback.
Want to work with a copywriter who cares about your business as much as you do? Get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.