When my husband and I lived in Baltimore, we shared an office on the third floor of our 14-foot-wide row house. It’s a miracle we stayed married.
Now I admit: I’m a talker. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I’m also a reader. I read everything I write out loud. This is not “friendly” behavior when you share an office.
Yet it is productive. Because the more spoken your writing sounds, the easier it is for a reader to digest your ideas. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a sales letter, a travel article, a short story, or a note to your bank.
But as you know, if you’ve ever sat down to write this way, it can be harder than you think it should be.
I think this is because we lash ourselves to certain “rules” of writing we learned in school.
And to write with a “chatty” voice, you’ve got to let those rules go.
Now, for the record: I am a strict grammarian. At least three times a day, I interrupt the stories my children tell me to say things like, “Johnny and I played on the slide… not Johnny and me!”
When people use apostrophes incorrectly, it makes me nuts. I wear t-shirts with grammar jokes on them.
So I am not suggesting that you cloak your good thoughts in bad English.
All I’m saying is that if you relax a few of those “academic” writing rules, your language will automatically sound more “spoken.”
Here are three quick-and-easy fixes to make your writing more effective and easy to read.
1. Get Rid of Passive Voice
First, know what it is. Passive voice is any form of the verb “to be” (is, am, are, was, were, be, been) plus a past participle of a verb. Like “is taken” or “was seen” or “are revealed.”
Passive voice tends to make your writing sound more “formal” or “distant.” But you want your writing to sound friendly. So here’s what you do instead:
a) Use “you”
Whenever possible, put your reader first by addressing them as “you.” This automatically creates an active voice and makes your writing much more engaging.
Instead of: “Relief can be had instantly with this single pill.”
Try: “You can relieve your symptoms instantly with this single pill.”
b) Put a “doer” before the verb in your sentence
That’ll force you to tell your reader who’s responsible for the action. It’s also good practice to make sure you always include your sources of information.
Instead of: “It is reported that 45% of older American workers have physically demanding jobs.”
Try: “The New York Times reports that…” or “Research shows that…” or “I just read in the paper that 45% of older American workers have physically demanding jobs.”
2. Pick Shorter Words
I don’t care how smart your readers are – I promise they don’t walk around speaking in long strings of three-syllable words. They just don’t.
Yet it’s easy to let “fancy” words creep onto your page when you write. Go back and edit them out. They sound artificial when you read them.
As Mark Twain put it, “I never write metropolis for seven cents, because I can get the same money for city. I never write policeman, because I can get the same price for cop….”
Intelligent gentleman. Or, um, smart guy.
This doesn’t mean you should use “dumbed down” language. But even the most complex topics can still be discussed and written in clear, easy to read terms.
If you’re ever stuck finding the right words to use, check out these online tools to find spectacular synonyms and antonyms.
3. Trim Your Sentences and Vary Their Length
Stick to one idea per sentence. That will help keep your sentences shorter. And shorter sentences are easier to digest.
Even one-word sentences – which you probably learned in school are not sentences – can be effective. They can help you emphasize your point and visually break up a page.
It’s also important to vary your sentence length. If you only used short sentences, that would be hard to read, too.
So include a few longer sentences to maintain variety, but don’t overdo it.
Bonus Tip: Read Your Copy Out Loud
As I said up front, I always read my copy aloud as I write. I suggest you do the same.
It doesn’t work to just read it in your head. You need to hear the sounds. That’s when you notice the awkward parts, the areas where you stumble.
When you find passages like that, go back and fiddle. Ask yourself, “How would I say this out loud?” And then write that down instead.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that good writing doesn’t have to be fancy. It needs to be clear and easy to read.
That’s the best way to connect with your reader and help them understand what you’re trying to say. And you can easily do this for whatever you’re writing by following these few easy steps.