Heather thought she’d found the perfect tone for her writing.
She knew it … this article would be so good, that her readers would feel touched and inspired.
She felt excited. She had finally found her voice, and was writing with passion, power, and pizzazz. Yay!
She brewed a cup of evening tea. Then decided to go for a whiskey. She felt so elated with her success. Any minor editing could wait until the next day.
But, the next day …
Heather feels disappointed. Her article doesn’t sound that great. Where has the energy gone? Why does her writing feel so robotic?
How can she power up her words and add sparkle to her writing?
How can she be more human?
We’ve all been there. We think our writing is good, but then get disappointed when we re-read a draft.
But don’t despair. A few easy tricks (yes, really!) exist to change the tone of your writing, so you can engage and inspire your readers.
Shall I explain?
An example of a human writing voice
MailChimp, a company in marketing automation, shows us how to write with a human voice. In its style guide, MailChimp describes its voice as:
MailChimp’s voice is human. It’s familiar, friendly, and straightforward. Our priority is explaining our products and helping our users get their work done so they can get on with their lives. We want to educate people without patronizing or confusing them.
This is a good starting point for writing like a real human being: The priority is always your readers—to help them rather than impress them with your knowledge.
But MailChimp’s real trick is to vary the tone of its writing. Its writers first think about their reader and their mood, and then vary their writing style depending on that mood. This is what makes them more human.
For instance, here’s an example message from MailChimp—when a reader has successfully sent a campaign:
Fine piece of work! You deserve a raise.
And this is an example of a failure message:
We’re experiencing a problem at one of our data centers. Our engineers are on the case, and will have things back to normal shortly.
Feels different, right?
While a voice remains constant, a writing tone can vary—enthusiastic because your readers completed a task, or compassionate because readers feel frustrated when something went wrong.
It’s like with a band. The Rolling Stones sing a ballad like Angie differently from a rock song like Satisfaction. But despite the difference, their style is still recognizable—they still sound like The Rolling Stones.
By varying the tone in your writing you connect with each of your readers. You celebrate their achievements with them. You commiserate with their failures. You offer empathy for their struggles. And you offer encouragement when they’re a little hesitant.
Shall I show you how?
1. Edit out a corporate voice
The problem with a lot of content is that it feels like it’s produced by companies for a faceless crowd.
To put your human voice back into your writing, start by skipping the gobbledygook and replace it with everyday language.
To those of you who experienced problems, we apologize for the inconvenience.
More human writing:
I’m sorry if you’ve experienced problems due to our datacenter failure.
Note the difference in tone between “To those of you who …” vs “If you’ve experienced …” and the difference between “we apologize for the inconvenience” vs “I’m sorry.”
When you re-read your content, ask yourself: Would you use these words when talking to a person? Are you addressing one person directly?
How to eliminate gobbledygook from your writing
2. Try a more conversational tone
Want to truly engage each reader?
Try adding a question.
Have you noticed how I’ve sprinkled questions over this blog post?
This is a deliberate editing trick.
When your reader is gliding through your text on auto-pilot, a question slows him briefly down as his brain starts thinking about the answer.
Questions not only make readers pay attention to your ideas, they also give them the feeling you’re having a conversation—as if you’re drinking a cup of tea (or a whiskey!) together.
How to write conversationally
3. A touch of compassion
Are your readers feeling frustrated?
Wanna put a virtual arm around their shoulders?
Consider using the inclusive “we” so readers feel you’re in it together. Show them they’re not the only people suffering and that they don’t have to feel ashamed of themselves.
When you constantly tell a reader what she’s doing wrong, she starts feeling insecure. She may even feel she’s the only one in the world who still can’t do it. You also make her feel you’re superior. You’re great, and she’s stupid.
Is that how you want to write?
A warmer version:
Feeling frustrated by the tone of your writing?
We’ve all been there.
We write as if our life depends on it. We feel we’ve finally found our voice. But then, when we read back our draft, the writing sounds clunky. Where has our voice gone? Why do we sound so distanced? What has gone wrong?
Especially when writing about a sensitive topic or when your readers may feel lonely, depressed or frustrated, a dash of compassion helps you connect.
How to write with warmth and compassion
4. A spark of energy
Do your words waltz or jive?
Rhythm influences us more than we think.
For instance, when we work out at the gym, our brains synchronize with the rhythm of the music, too. An upbeat song makes us move faster. A dreamy love song slows us down.
In the same way, your readers experience the rhythm of your writing. Even when they don’t read your text aloud, they still hear their inner speech.
Want to add a spark of energy, and electrify your readers with your words? Try upping your rhythm with shorter sentences.
A slow cadence with long sentences allows readers to glide through your writing. If you want to be more energetic, up your tempo with shorter sentences so your writing sounds snappier.
A fast cadence with a mix of short and long sentences allows readers to hippety-hop through your words.
So, up your tempo. With staccato sentences. Quick. And snappy.
How to make your words swing and swirl
5. Poke readers into action
Want to truly inspire your readers?
Want them to jump up to implement your advice?
Powerful writing inspires readers to take action. A good sales page encourages readers to click and buy. Strong social media updates make people click to read more. And authoritative blog posts motivate readers to implement your tips.
To poke readers into action, use the imperative form of a verb. The imperative form is like a command:
Just do it
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You don’t need to despair when your draft text sounds weak.
Instead, you may start editing, and you replace gobbledygook with everyday language.
If you want to communicate your ideas with power, you can be a little bossy because that’s when people will listen to you.
Sometimes, you need to remove the word “you” and use the imperative form to create a powerful nudge and spark action:
Don’t despair when your draft text sounds weak.
Instead, start editing. Replace gobbledygook with everyday language. And communicate your ideas with power.
Come on. Be bossy.
Because that’s when people will listen to you.
How to power up your words
Good writers are changemakers
Want to inspire action?
Start with understanding your readers’ fears, frustrations, hesitations, and secret wishes.
Learn when to be compassionate, and when to poke readers into action. Understand when to be bossy, and when to ask questions instead.
Vary your tone depending on the reader’s mood.
Because that’s when you truly engage, touch, and inspire your readers.
That’s how you spark action, and change people’s lives.